European archaeologists back in Iraq after years of war

European archaeologists back in Iraq after years of war
Members of a French-Iraqi archaeological team excavate at the site of the Sumerian city-state of Larsa, near Nasiriyah, on Nov. 22, 2021. (AFP/File)
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Updated 12 January 2022

European archaeologists back in Iraq after years of war

European archaeologists back in Iraq after years of war
  • A team of archaeologists had unearthed a 4,000-year-old cuneiform inscription in Larsa, southern Iraq

NASIRIYAH, Iraq: After war and insurgency kept them away from Iraq for decades, European archaeologists are making an enthusiastic return in search of millennia-old cultural treasures.

“Come and see!” shouted an overjoyed French researcher recently at a desert dig in Larsa, southern Iraq, where the team had unearthed a 4,000-year-old cuneiform inscription.

“When you find inscriptions like that, in situ, it’s moving,” said Dominique Charpin, professor of Mesopotamian civilization at the College de France in Paris.

The inscription in Sumerian was engraved on a brick fired in the 19th century B.C.

“To the god Shamash, his king Sin-iddinam, king of Larsa, king of Sumer and Akkad,” Charpin translated with ease.

Behind him, a dozen other European and Iraqi archaeologists kept at work in a cordoned-off area where they were digging.

They brushed off bricks and removed earth to clear what appeared to be the pier of a bridge spanning an urban canal of Larsa, which was the capital of Mesopotamia just before Babylon, at the start of the second millennium B.C.

“Larsa is one of the largest sites in Iraq; it covers more than 200 hectares,” said Regis Vallet, researcher at France’s National Center for Scientific Research, heading the Franco-Iraqi mission.

The team of 20 people has made “major discoveries,” he said, including the residence of a ruler identified by about 60 cuneiform tablets that have been transferred to the national museum in Baghdad.

Vallet said Larsa is like an archaeological playground and a “paradise” for exploring ancient Mesopotamia, which hosted through the ages the empire of Akkad, the Babylonians, Alexander the Great, the Christians, the Persians and Islamic rulers.

However, the modern history of Iraq — with its succession of conflicts, especially since the 2003 US-led invasion and its bloody aftermath — has kept foreign researchers at bay.

Only since Baghdad declared victory in territorial battles against the Daesh group in 2017 has Iraq “largely stabilized and it has become possible again” to visit, said Vallet.

“The French came back in 2019 and the British a little earlier,” he said. “The Italians came back as early as 2011.”

In late 2021, said Vallet, 10 foreign missions were at work in the Dhi Qar province, where Larsa is located.

Iraq’s Council of Antiquities and Heritage director Laith Majid Hussein said he is delighted to play host, and is happy that his country is back on the map for foreign expeditions.

“This benefits us scientifically,” he told AFP in Baghdad, adding that he welcomes the “opportunity to train our staff after such a long interruption.”

Near Najaf in central Iraq, Ibrahim Salman of the German Institute of Archaeology is focused on the site of the city of Al-Hira.

Germany had previously carried out excavations here that ground to a halt with the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Equipped with a geomagnetic measuring device, Salman’s team has been at work in the one-time Christian city that had its heyday under the Lakhmids, a pre-Islamic tribal dynasty of the 5th and 6th centuries.

“Some clues lead us to believe that a church may have been located here,” he explained.

He pointed to traces on the ground left by moisture which is retained by buried structures and rises to the surface.

“The moistened earth on a strip several meters long leads us to conclude that under the feet of the archaeologist are probably the walls of an ancient church,” he said.

Al-Hira is far less ancient than other sites, but it is part of the diverse history of the country that serves as a reminder, according to Salman, that “Iraq, or Mesopotamia, is the cradle of civilizations. It is as simple as that!”


Kuwait ministry captures Iranian ship with 240 tons of smuggled diesel: report

Kuwait ministry captures Iranian ship with 240 tons of smuggled diesel: report
Updated 7 sec ago

Kuwait ministry captures Iranian ship with 240 tons of smuggled diesel: report

Kuwait ministry captures Iranian ship with 240 tons of smuggled diesel: report

DUBAI: Kuwait’s Ministry of Interior has seized an Iranian ship carrying 240 tons of smuggled diesel, a report by Dubai-based Al Arabiya TV said Saturday. 

The ministry said it has seized in territorial waters and has arrested the ship crew members who are Iranians. 

It said the Iranian ship crew were buying fuel from smaller ships at certain prices. 

The ministry also said an investigation is underway to reveal all the circumstances of the smuggling incident. 


Israeli forces shoot dead Palestinian teenager in West Bank clashes – health ministry

Israeli security forces clash with Palestinians in Jerusalem. (AFP file photo)
Israeli security forces clash with Palestinians in Jerusalem. (AFP file photo)
Updated 21 May 2022

Israeli forces shoot dead Palestinian teenager in West Bank clashes – health ministry

Israeli security forces clash with Palestinians in Jerusalem. (AFP file photo)
  • Jenin refugee camp has served as a flashpoint amid recent tensions following a wave of attacks

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: A Palestinian teenager was shot dead by Israeli forces early Saturday during a raid in Jenin in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian health ministry said.
“A 17-year-old boy was killed, and an 18-year-old was critically wounded by the Israeli occupation’s bullets during its aggression on Jenin,” a statement by the health ministry said.
Jenin refugee camp has served as a flashpoint amid recent tensions following a wave of attacks in Israel in which 19 people were killed.
Thirteen Palestinians were injured last week during an operation by Israeli forces in the camp in which one Israeli commando and one Palestinian were also killed.
Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett named the Israeli commando as Noam Raz.
The Palestinian was later named as Daoud Al-Zubaidi, a brother of Zakaria Al-Zubaidi, who headed the armed wing of the Fatah movement of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and briefly escaped from Israeli prison last year.
The raids came hours before violence erupted at the funeral of Shireen Abu Akleh, an Al Jazeera journalist who was killed last week while covering another Israeli raid on the camp.
As her funeral unfolded, Israeli police stormed the grounds of a Jerusalem hospital as the body of the slain journalist was being transported for burial, prompting an international outcry.

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Israeli missile strikes kill 3 near Syria capital: state media

Israeli F35 I fighter jets take part in an air defence exercise in Eilat. (AFP file photo)
Israeli F35 I fighter jets take part in an air defence exercise in Eilat. (AFP file photo)
Updated 21 May 2022

Israeli missile strikes kill 3 near Syria capital: state media

Israeli F35 I fighter jets take part in an air defence exercise in Eilat. (AFP file photo)
  • Since civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes there, targeting government positions as well as bases and weapon depots for allied Iran-backed forces and fighters of Lebanon’s Shiite militant group Hezbollah

DAMASCUS: Israeli surface-to-surface missiles killed three people near the Syrian capital Damascus on Friday, state media said quoting a military source.
“The Israeli enemy carried out an aggression... that led to the death of three martyrs and some material losses,” Syria’s official news agency SANA quoted the source as saying.
The missiles came from the Israeli-occupied Golan heights and were intercepted by the Syrian air defenses, the military source said.
AFP correspondents in the Syrian capital said they heard very loud noises in the evening.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said that the three people killed were officers and that four other members of the air defense crew were wounded.
The Israeli strikes targeted Iranian positions and weapon depots near Damascus, the monitor said.
A fire broke at one of the positions near the Damascus airport, where ambulances were seen rushing to the site of the strikes, according to the Observatory.
The latest strike follows one on May 13 that killed five people in central Syria, and another one near Damascus on April 27 which, according to the Observatory, killed 10 combatants, among them six Syrian soldiers, in the deadliest such raid since the start of 2022.
Since civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes there, targeting government troops as well as allied Iran-backed forces and fighters of Lebanon’s Shiite militant group Hezbollah.
While Israel rarely comments on individual strikes, it has acknowledged carrying out hundreds of them.
The Israeli military has defended them as necessary to prevent its arch-foe Iran from gaining a foothold on its doorstep.
The conflict in Syria has killed nearly half a million people and forced around half of the country’s pre-war population from their homes.


Tunisia heads for ‘new republic’ in dialogue without political parties

Tunisia heads for ‘new republic’ in dialogue without political parties
Updated 21 May 2022

Tunisia heads for ‘new republic’ in dialogue without political parties

Tunisia heads for ‘new republic’ in dialogue without political parties
  • On Friday the official gazette announced that law professor Sadeq Belaid would head the newly created "National Consultative Commission for a New Republic"
  • Saied announced in early May the establishment of a long-awaited "national dialogue"

TUNIS: Tunisia’s President Kais Saied on Friday appointed a loyalist law professor to head a committee charged with writing a constitution for a “new republic”, through a national dialogue that excludes political parties.
On July 25 last year, Saied sacked the government and suspended parliament, sidelining the political parties that have dominated Tunisian politics since the 2011 revolution that sparked the Arab Spring uprisings.
He has since vowed to scrap the country’s 2014 constitution and draft a replacement to be put to referendum in July, but has repeatedly inveighed against political parties despite calls for an inclusive dialogue.
On Friday the official gazette announced that law professor Sadeq Belaid would head the newly created “National Consultative Commission for a New Republic”, charged with drawing up a draft constitution.
Saied has also created three other committees to focus on socio-economic issues, the judiciary and on national dialogue.
While major organisations including the powerful UGTT trade union confederation are supposed to be involved, no political party is set to take part.
Saied announced in early May the establishment of a long-awaited “national dialogue” – at the same time attacking the political parties he accuses of having plundered the country.
Since his July power grab, many Tunisians have supported his moves against a political class seen as corrupt, but opponents have labelled his moves a coup and he has faced calls from home and abroad for a dialogue involving all of the country’s major actors.


Sandstorms pose serious risk to human health: WMO

People navigate a street during a recent sandstorm in Basra, Iraq. (AP)
People navigate a street during a recent sandstorm in Basra, Iraq. (AP)
Updated 20 May 2022

Sandstorms pose serious risk to human health: WMO

People navigate a street during a recent sandstorm in Basra, Iraq. (AP)
  • The UN agency WMO has warned of the “serious risks” posed by airborne dust

PARIS: Sandstorms have engulfed the Middle East in recent days, in a phenomenon experts warn could proliferate because of climate change, putting human health at grave risk.
At least 4,000 people went to hospitals on Monday for respiratory issues in Iraq where eight sandstorms have blanketed the country since mid-April.
That was on top of the more than 5,000 treated in Iraqi hospitals for similar respiratory ailments earlier this month.
The phenomenon has also smothered Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE with more feared in the coming days.
Strong winds lift large amounts of sand and dust into the atmosphere, that can then travel hundreds, even thousands, of kilometers.
Sandstorms have affected a total of 150 countries and regions, adversely impacting on the environment, health and the economy, the World Meteorological Organization said.

HIGHLIGHTS

• The UN agency WMO has warned of the ‘serious risks’ posed by airborne dust.

• The fine dust particles can cause health problems such as asthma and cardiovascular ailments.

• They also spread bacteria and viruses as well as pesticides and other toxins.

“It’s a phenomenon that is both local and global, with a stronger intensity in areas of origin,” said Carlos Perez Garcia-Pando, a sand and dust storm expert at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center and the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies.
The storms originate in dry or semi-dry regions of North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Central Asia and China.
Other less affected areas include Australia, the Americas and South Africa.
The UN agency WMO has warned of the “serious risks” posed by airborne dust.
The fine dust particles can cause health problems such as asthma and cardiovascular ailments, and also spread bacteria and viruses as well as pesticides and other toxins.
“Dust particle size is a key determinant of potential hazard to human health,” the WMO said.
Small particles that can be smaller than 10 micrometers can often become trapped in the nose, mouth and upper respiratory tract, and as a result it is associated with respiratory disorders such as asthma and pneumonia.
The most at-risk are the oldest and youngest as well as those struggling with respiratory and cardiac problems.
And the most affected are residents in countries regularly battered by sandstorms, unlike in Europe where dust coming from the Sahara is rare, like the incident in March.
Depending on the weather and climate conditions, sand dust can remain in the atmosphere for several days and travel great distances, at times picking up bacteria, pollen, fungi and viruses.
“However, the seriousness is less than with ultrafine particles, for example from road traffic, which can penetrate the brain or the blood system,” says Thomas Bourdrel, a radiologist, researcher at the University of Strasbourg and a member of Air Health Climate collective.
Even if the sand particles are less toxic than particles produced by combustion, their “extreme density during storms causes a fairly significant increase in cardio-respiratory mortality, especially among the most vulnerable,” he said.
With “a concentration of thousands of cubic micrometers in the air, it’s almost unbreathable,” said Garcia-Pando.
The sandstorms’ frequency and intensity could worsen because of climate change, say some scientists.
But the complex phenomenon is “full of uncertainties” and is affected by a cocktail of factors like heat, wind and agricultural practices, Garcia-Pando told AFP.
“In some areas, climate change could reduce the winds that cause storms, but extreme events could persist, even rise,” he said.
With global temperatures rising, it is very likely that more and more parts of the Earth will become drier.
“This year, a significant temperature anomaly was observed in East Africa, in the Middle East, in East Asia, and this drought affects plants, a factor that can increase sandstorms,” the Spanish researcher said.