The restoration projects that keep Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa in good repair 

A picture taken on July 12, 2016 from inside the golden dome of the Dome of the Rock mosque at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem old city, shows the Muslim shrine following a restoration. (AFP/File Photo)
A picture taken on July 12, 2016 from inside the golden dome of the Dome of the Rock mosque at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem old city, shows the Muslim shrine following a restoration. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 13 March 2021

The restoration projects that keep Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa in good repair 

A picture taken on July 12, 2016 from inside the golden dome of the Dome of the Rock mosque at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem old city, shows the Muslim shrine following a restoration. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Israeli attempts to stop renovations to the Dome of the Rock in January brought into focus ongoing projects in the Old City
  • Al-Aqsa compound has seen five major restoration cycles undertaken by the Hashemite Fund since 1922 at a cost of $2.1 billion

AMMAN, JORDAN: Restoration work has been underway at Jerusalem’s holy sites for almost a century now, with a total of five major initiatives funded by the Hashemite royal family of Jordan.

Ongoing projects in the Old City of Jerusalem, a UNESCO World Heritage site, were brought into focus by a flare-up in tensions in January this year when Israeli police tried to stop renovations to the Dome of the Rock Islamic shrine.

The current monarch, King Abdullah II, has continued his father and great-grandfather’s mission, establishing in 2007 the Hashemite Fund for the Restoration of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

In December 2016, an eight-year project to renovate and preserve the mosaics of the Dome of the Rock and the Qibly Mosque concluded with the restoration of about 16 million mosaic tiles — the first such project in 500 years.

Wasfi Al-Kailani, executive director of the Hashemite Fund, told Arab News that the royal family’s funds have spent nearly JOD 1.5 billion ($2.1 billion) on these projects since 1922.

Al-Aqsa Mosque, also known as the Qibly Mosque, is situated inside the Noble Sanctuary, or Haram al-Sharif, alongside the Dome of the Rock — the iconic gold-capped mosque built on the site where Prophet Muhammad is believed to have ascended to heaven by night on a winged horse.

The Umayyad Caliph Abdel Malik ibn Marwan commissioned its construction and it was completed during the reign of his son, Al-Walid, in the year 705. The UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the three holiest sites in Islam, along with Makkah and Madinah in Saudi Arabia.

However, the Jewish people also lay claim to the same site, known to their faith as the Temple Mount. They believe the mosque is the site of the remains of two destroyed Jewish temples. As a result, to this day the compound remains both a symbolic and a literal flashpoint in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian problem.




An engineer dry cleaning the mosaic painting after renovating some impaired pieces. (Supplied)

According to international law, the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, which is directly affiliated with the Jordanian Ministry of Awqaf Islamic Affairs and Holy Places, is the official supervisor of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the endowments of Jerusalem. Jordan still maintains the exclusive right to supervise religious affairs in Jerusalem according to the peace agreement it signed with Israel in 1994.

The first restoration, which began in 1922 and concluded in 1952, saw the Islamic Higher Council (IHC) created to preserve Islamic deals and protect the sanctuaries of Palestine.

Under the leadership of Hajj Amin Al-Husseini, the IHC raised funds to restore the Dome of the Rock. King Abdullah I, the first ruler of Transjordan, personally supervised the restoration work, which included the retiling of ancient artworks.

During the 1948 war, the Old City of Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa Mosque and the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher suffered considerable damage. Immediately after the end of the war, King Abdullah I visited Al-Aqsa and launched the restoration of the Mihrab Zakariah (Niche of the Al-Aqsa).




King Abdullah II inspects the final stage of restoring typical copy of Minbar Salhahudeen designed and manufactured in Amman before installing it in Al-Aqsa Qibli Mosque in 2007. (Supplied)

The king was deeply committed to preserving the holy places throughout his reign until his assassination in Qibly Mosque on July 20, 1951.

Abdullah’s grandson, King Hussein, took on the mantle by launching a second wave of restoration efforts from 1952 to 1964 and founding the Jordanian Law of the Hashemite Restoration Committee in 1954.

Over the centuries the Dome of the Rock had lost its golden sheen and was letting in water. The lead plates adorning the dome had to be replaced with aluminum support beams and new gilded plates.

“When Caliph Abdel Malik decided to cover the mosque with gold, he appealed to Muslims to contribute their gold jewelry,” said Al-Kailani.

“Until this day, we see in the transparent offering box in Al-Aqsa Mosque both paper money and jewelry that women contribute to the restoration effort.”

THENUMBER

$2.1 bn

* Money spent by Hashemite funds for the restoration of the Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif since 1922.

Some of the most significant restoration work took place in the third cycle after Michael Dennis Rohan, an Australian Christian extremist, attempted to torch the compound’s ancient buildings on Aug. 21, 1969.

The 1,000-year-old wood and ivory carved Saladin pulpit — known as the Minbar of Salah Al-Din — was destroyed in the fire. The pulpit had been brought from Aleppo to Jerusalem by Salah Al-Din himself after his liberation of Jerusalem from the Crusaders in 1187.

Its replacement, designed to resemble the original, was finally installed in 2007 at a cost of $2.115 million to the Jordanian treasury. Repairs to the fire damage are ongoing.

The fourth restoration began in the early 1990s to address weathering and other wear and tear to the Dome of the Rock. Some 1,200 copper and nickel plates, gilded with 24-carat gold, were installed, alongside new roof supports and fireproofing.




Hashemite Fund Director Dr. Wasfi Kailani and engineer Ra’ef Najem join Awqaf Council members in celebrating the finishing of the 2008-2016 important phase of renovating the mosaic in the Dome of the Rock, July 2016. (Supplied)

“His Majesty the late King Hussein sold his house in Britain for £8.5 million, which he donated to renovate the golden dome with 24-carat golden covering,” said Al-Kailani. The restoration brought back the dome’s glittering splendor.

Even so, in recent years the leak in the roof of the Bab Al-Rahmeh prayer hall had become unbearable. Every time it rained, the wet ceiling would drip onto the heads of Muslim worshippers as they prayed in Bab Al-Rahmeh on the periphery of the Al-Aqsa compound.

Israeli police were repeatedly blocking attempts to repair the roof of the small building, tucked just inside the closed Golden Gate, despite regular appeals by the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf.

Then, on Jan. 22, a Palestinian man, wearing a keffiyeh over his face to conceal his identity from Israeli surveillance cameras, climbed onto the roof of Bab Al-Rahmeh prayer hall and repaired the leak. The Israeli police responded with a ban on restoration work and an embargo on all goods and materials coming into the compound.

Bassam Al-Hallaq, director of Al-Aqsa Mosque’s Hashemite Restoration Department, was outraged by the move, telling Jordan TV’s Eye on Jerusalem program: “I have worked for 40 years and this is the first time that our work has been interrupted.”




An Israeli policewoman stands guard at an entrance of the al-Aqsa compound, leading to the Dome of the Rock mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem on October 18, 2020, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic crisis. (AFP/File Photo)

Azzam Khatib, the director-general of the Jordanian Jerusalem Waqf and Al-Aqsa Mosque Affairs Directorate, refused to take the embargo lying down. The Waqf Council met and issued a statement condemning the Israeli action.

Omar Kiswani, director of Al-Aqsa Mosque, said that repairing and restoring the entire compound is the right of the Islamic Waqf and that Israeli authorities have no right to interfere.

Khatib also informed Ghassan Majali, Jordan’s ambassador to Israel, and Mohammad Khalaileh, the minister of Waqf in Amman, leading to a strong statement of protest from Jordan’s foreign ministry.

The combined pressure campaign worked. Four days after the ban was imposed, the Israeli authorities rescinded the order, allowing restoration work to continue.

“We were able to return to our regular work and bring in all the needed equipment and items needed,” Al-Hallaq said.

“The challenge of restoration has always been how to safeguard the authentic character of every historic segment of Al-Aqsa,” said Al-Kailani of the Hashemite Fund.




A Palestinian woman walks as snow falls at the Dome of the Rock Mosque in Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque compound, on February 17, 2021. (AFP/File Photo)

For his part, Al-Hallaq says many of the restoration projects have faced obstruction by Israeli authorities — and more hurdles are expected in future. In addition to the ban on renovations at Bab Al-Rahmeh, Israel has also prevented any attempts to light up the top of the Dome of the Rock.

“Even before the controversy over the repair of the Bab Al-Rahmeh, Israel had banned some of the work, such as the lighting of the golden dome and the fire extinguishing system inside Al-Aqsa Mosque,” he said.

“We have noticed that the current lighting of the Dome of the Rock doesn’t reach the top areas. We have the money and the plans to erect a lighting system that will allow the illumination of the entire Dome of the Rock, but Israel bans the erection of any towers that are needed to light the dome.”

Al-Hallaq says overcoming these obstacles is an important part of the historic and religious duty of Muslims to defend their holy places.

“When you work as an engineer or artisan here, you are always working at risk from Israel,” he said. “But despite all this, while we suffer from these interventions, we are steadfast and insistent on continuing the restoration efforts.”

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Twitter: @daoudkuttab


Israeli-linked tanker attacked off Oman arrives at UAE anchorage

Israeli-linked tanker attacked off Oman arrives at UAE anchorage
Updated 56 min 19 sec ago

Israeli-linked tanker attacked off Oman arrives at UAE anchorage

Israeli-linked tanker attacked off Oman arrives at UAE anchorage
  • Low visibility due to high humidity made it difficult to see the damage to the vessel in its mooring

FUJAIRAH: An Israeli-linked vessel that was attacked off Oman last week anchored off the UAE emirate of Fujairah Tuesday amid accusations Iran was behind the attack in which two crew members were killed.
Low visibility due to high humidity made it difficult to see the damage to the vessel in its mooring in the Gulf of Oman off the eastern coast of the United Arab Emirates, an AFP correspondent reported.
Tracking service MarineTraffic said the Liberian-flagged vessel reached its mooring at 2:47 am (2247 GMT Monday).
The UAE, which normalized ties with Israel last year, has not officially commented on the tanker incident.
Both the United States and Israel have said their intelligence assessments of Thursday’s incident concluded that an Iranian drone attacked the ship, managed by prominent Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer, as it sailed off Oman.
Tehran denied the accusation and warned against “adventurism.”
A British security guard and a Romanian crew member were killed in what analysts said bore all the hallmarks of the “shadow war” between Iran and Israel, which has included attacks on shipping in waters around the Gulf.
Washington on Monday promised to lead a “collective response” against Tehran, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken calling the MV Mercer Street incident “a direct threat to freedom of navigation and commerce.”
Britain summoned the Iranian ambassador and demanded that vessels navigate freely in the oil-rich region.
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh, meanwhile, said that Israel “must stop such baseless accusations” and called on the US and Britain to provide evidence to support their claims.
Iran “will not hesitate to protect its security and national interests, and will immediately and decisively respond to any possible adventurism,” Khatibzadeh said.


UAE lifts ban on transit flights from India, Pakistan, other countries

UAE lifts ban on transit flights from India, Pakistan, other countries
Updated 55 min 27 sec ago

UAE lifts ban on transit flights from India, Pakistan, other countries

UAE lifts ban on transit flights from India, Pakistan, other countries
  • Transit passengers traveling from countries where flights had been suspended must present negative PCR tests taken 72 hours prior to departure

DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates will lift a ban on transit passenger traffic from India, Pakistan, Nigeria and other countries from Aug. 5, the National Emergency and Crisis Management Authority (NCEMA) said on Tuesday.
The UAE, a major international travel hub, has banned passengers from many South Asian and African countries for several months due to the coronavirus pandemic.
NCEMA said on Twitter that passengers traveling from countries where flights had been suspended would be able to transit through its airports from Thursday as long as they present negative PCR tests taken 72 hours prior to departure.
Final destination approval would also have to be provided, the authority said, adding that UAE departure airports would arrange separate lounges for transiting passengers.
The transit ban had also included Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Uganda.
NCEMA said that a ban on entry to the UAE for passengers from these countries would also be lifted for those with valid residencies and who are certified by Emirati authorities as fully vaccinated.
However, they would need to apply for online entry permits prior to traveling and would need to present a negative PCR test taken 48 hours prior to departure.
Those working in the medical, educational or government sectors in the Gulf Arab state as well as those studying or completing medical treatment in the UAE would be exempt from the vaccination requirement as would humanitarian cases.


Bahrain, Abu Dhabi vow to protect maritime trade

Bahrain, Abu Dhabi vow to protect maritime trade
Updated 03 August 2021

Bahrain, Abu Dhabi vow to protect maritime trade

Bahrain, Abu Dhabi vow to protect maritime trade
  • In a statement released by Bahrain’s state media, both men drew upon their countries’ “brotherly ties”

DUBAI: Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa said Tuesday that coordination with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyanis ongoing to protect international navigation from any threats. 

In a statement released by Bahrain’s state media, both men drew upon their countries’ “brotherly ties” during the meeting and vowed to “continue coordinating a joint strategic vision to establish security and stability.”

“Protect international maritime traffic from any threats that negatively affect the course of global trade,” is of the utmost importance, the statement said.


Graduating Syrian-British doctor meets family of deceased medic who inspired him

Graduating Syrian-British doctor meets family of deceased medic who inspired him
Updated 03 August 2021

Graduating Syrian-British doctor meets family of deceased medic who inspired him

Graduating Syrian-British doctor meets family of deceased medic who inspired him
  • UK inquest found Abbas Khan was unlawfully killed in regime prison
  • Karim Al-Jian: ‘Someone out of the goodness of their heart went to this country — where they have no connection — to save lives’

LONDON: A newly qualified Syrian-born British doctor has had an emotional meeting with the siblings of the deceased British surgeon who inspired him to enter the field.
Karim Al-Jian, 24, who was born in Aleppo but raised in Britain, recently met with the brother and sister of Dr. Abbas Khan, an orthopaedic surgeon from London who was killed in a Syrian prison after he left the safety of his home to care for victims in the war-torn nation.


Al-Jian posted a photo of himself with a portrait of Khan with the caption: “In 2012 British surgeon Abbas Khan went to Aleppo, Syria to treat wounded civilians. He was consequently tortured and murdered by the Syrian regime. His story touched many, including a … boy from Aleppo who wanted to be like Dr. Khan. Today that boy graduated a doctor.”

Khan’s sister Sara, 31, asked Twitter users to locate Al-Jian. “This is so touching it has brought tears to my eyes,” she wrote. “I would like to send him a message if possible.”

The BBC organized a meeting between the new medic and Khan’s family. Sara told Al-Jian: “It is inspiring the fact that you dedicated your medical career to Abbas. I cannot explain to you how touched my family and I are. It was so beautiful to read it.”

The deceased doctor’s brother Shah, who is also an orthopaedic surgeon, has said he will keep in touch with Al-Jian to give him advice about his career path. Al-Jian intends to share the same specialism as the Khan brothers.

Al-Jian said when he was a teenager, he saw the news of Khan’s sacrifice, which inspired him to turn to medical training.

On his graduation and eight years after the surgeon’s death, Al-Jian paid tribute to Khan on social media, posing with his portrait while donning his academic robes.
Khan traveled to Syria via Turkey to lend his expertise by assisting the victims of bombed hospitals, which were being regularly targeted by regime forces.
He was arrested and jailed for over a year in a regime-controlled prison. In December 2013, he was found hanging in his cell. He was 32. A British inquest in 2014 concluded that he had been unlawfully killed.
Al-Jian said Khan’s story had an enormous impact on him, and he shared in the pain and suffering that he saw.

“That someone out of the goodness of their heart went to this country — where they have no connection — to save lives was astounding to me. He put the lives of others before himself,” said Al-Jian. “I really felt that his mother’s pain was the pain of hundreds of thousands of Syrians.”

Living in northern England at the time, Al-Jian was awarded a place to study on the country’s south coast at Brighton and Sussex Medical School. He graduated last month after five years. 


Some officials saw risk of Beirut blast but failed to act – human rights group

Some officials saw risk of Beirut blast but failed to act – human rights group
Updated 03 August 2021

Some officials saw risk of Beirut blast but failed to act – human rights group

Some officials saw risk of Beirut blast but failed to act – human rights group
  • The explosion killed more than 200 people, injured thousands and destroyed swathes of Lebanon’s capital
  • HRW based its report on official documents it reviewed and on multiple interviews with top officials

BEIRUT: A report released by Human Rights Watch on Tuesday concluded there was strong evidence to suggest some Lebanese officials knew about and tacitly accepted the lethal risks posed by ammonium nitrate stored at Beirut port before the fatal blast there on Aug. 4 last year.
The explosion, caused by the chemicals stored unsafely at the port for years, killed more than 200 people, injured thousands and destroyed swathes of Lebanon’s capital.
The report by the international rights watchdog contained over 700 pages of findings and documents. Its investigation also concluded there was evidence that multiple Lebanese authorities were criminally negligent under Lebanese law.
HRW based its report on official documents it reviewed and on multiple interviews with top officials including the president, the caretaker prime minister and the head of the country’s state security.
The investigation trailed events from 2014 onwards after the shipment was brought to Beirut port and tracked repeated warnings of danger to various official bodies.
“Evidence strongly suggests that some government officials foresaw the death that the ammonium nitrate’s presence in the port could result in and tacitly accepted the risk of the deaths occurring,” the report said.
It called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to mandate an investigation into the blast and on foreign governments to impose human rights and corruption sanctions on officials.
A Lebanese investigation into the blast, led by Judge Tarek Bitar, has stalled. Politicians and senior security officials are yet to be questioned and requests to lift their immunity have been hindered.
The HRW report said President Michel Aoun, caretaker prime minister Hassan Diab, the director general of state security Tony Saliba and other former ministers wanted for questioning by judge Bitar, had failed to take action to protect the general public despite having been informed of the risks.
Reuters sought comment on the report’s findings from Aoun, Diab and Saliba. The presidential palace offered no comment. There was no immediate response from Diab and Saliba.
Aoun said on Friday he was ready to testify and that no one was above the law.
A document seen by Reuters that was sent just over two weeks before the blast showed the president and prime minister were warned about the security risk posed by the chemicals stored at the port and that they could destroy the capital.