Rich heritage buried under impoverished Gaza Strip

Rich heritage buried under impoverished Gaza Strip
An archaeological site in Gaza. Archaeology is a highly political subject in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and discoveries are used to justify the territorial claims of each people. (AFP)
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Updated 27 June 2022

Rich heritage buried under impoverished Gaza Strip

Rich heritage buried under impoverished Gaza Strip
  • In the Gaza Strip, ruled by Hamas and repeatedly ravaged by war, people are more familiar with burying the dead than digging up their heritage

JABALIYA, Palestine: While workers labored on a large construction site in the Gaza Strip, a security guard noticed a strange piece of stone sticking out of the earth.

“I thought it was a tunnel,” said Ahmad, the young guard, referring to secret passages dug by the militant group Hamas to help it battle Israel.

In the Gaza Strip, ruled by Hamas and repeatedly ravaged by war, people are more familiar with burying the dead than digging up their heritage.

But what Ahmad found in January was part of a Roman necropolis dating from about 2,000 years ago — representative of the impoverished Palestinian territory’s rich, if under-developed, archaeological treasures.

After the last war between Israel and Hamas in May 2021 left a trail of damage in Gaza, Egypt began a reconstruction initiative worth $500 million.

As part of that project in Jabaliya, in the north of the coastal enclave, bulldozers were digging up the sandy soil in order to build new concrete buildings when Ahmad made his discovery.

“I notified the Egyptian foremen, who immediately contacted local authorities and asked the workers to stop,” said Ahmad, a Palestinian who preferred not to give his full name.

With rumors on social media of a big discovery, Gaza’s antiquities service called in the French nongovernmental group Premiere Urgence Internationale and the French Biblical and Archaeological School of Jerusalem to evaluate the site’s importance and mark off the area.

“The first excavations permitted the identification of about 40 tombs dating from the ancient Roman period between the first and second centuries AD,” said French archaeologist Rene Elter, who led the team dispatched to Jabaliya.

“The necropolis is larger than these 40 tombs and should have between 80 and 100,” he said.

One of the burial sites found so far is decorated with multi-colored paintings representing crowns and garlands of bay leaves, as well as jars for funereal drinks, the archaeologist added.

Archaeology is a highly political subject in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and discoveries are used to justify the territorial claims of each people.

While the Jewish state has a number of archaeologists reporting on an impressive number of ancient treasures, the sector is largely neglected in Gaza.

Authorities periodically announce discoveries in the territory, but tourism at archaeological sites is limited.

Israel and Egypt, which shares a border with Gaza, tightly restrict the flow of people in and out of the enclave administered by Hamas since 2007.

“However, there is no difference between what you can find in Gaza and on the other side of the barrier” in Israel, Elter said. “It’s the same great history.”

“In Gaza, a lot of sites have disappeared because of conflict and construction, but the territory is an immense archaeological site which needs many teams of experts,” he added.

Stakes and fences have been erected around the Roman necropolis, which is watched over constantly by guards as new buildings go up nearby.

“We are trying to fight antiquities trafficking,” said Jamal Abu Rida, director of the local archaeological service tasked with protecting the necropolis and which hopes to find investors for further excavation.

“The image of Gaza is often associated with violence, but its history is bursting with archaeological treasures that need to be protected for future generations,” said Jihad Abu Hassan, director of the local Premiere Urgence mission.

Demographics add to the pressure. Gaza is a tiny, overcrowded strip of land whose population in 15 years has ballooned from 1.4 million to 2.3 million. As a result, building construction has accelerated.

“Some people avoid telling authorities if there is an archaeological discovery on a construction site out of fear of not being compensated” for the resulting work stoppage, Abu Hassan said.

“We lose archaeological sites every day,” which shows the need for a strategy to defend the enclave’s heritage, including training local archaeologists, he said.

Over the last few years, his organization has helped to educate 84 archaeological technicians. Doing so also offers employment prospects, in an impoverished territory where youth joblessness exceeds 60 percent.


People from Rushdie attacker’s hometown in Lebanon condemn attack

People from Rushdie attacker’s hometown in Lebanon condemn attack
Updated 14 August 2022

People from Rushdie attacker’s hometown in Lebanon condemn attack

People from Rushdie attacker’s hometown in Lebanon condemn attack
  • Hadi Matar’s father, who is separated from his mother, refuses to receive anyone in wake of New York stabbing
  • “I have never seen him in this town,” says Yaroun town Mayor Ali Qassem Tuhfa

BEIRUT: The father of Hadi Matar, the man who stabbed novelist Salman Rushdie in the US on Friday, is refusing to talk to anyone. Since hearing about his 24-year-old son’s crime, he has not received any visitors at his home in the southern Lebanese town of Yaroun — not even the town’s mayor.

Mayor Ali Qassem Tuhfa told Arab News: “Matar’s parents have been separated for 10 years. The father returned to Yaroun while his family stayed in the US. He revived the family’s old business of raising livestock and has been taking care of a small herd. He has little to no social life and does not talk to anyone.”

Yaroun is close to the town of Maroun Al-Ras in the district of Beit Jbeil. (Arab News)

Yaroun is close to the town of Maroun Al-Ras in the district of Beit Jbeil. It is about 125 km from Beirut. Previously, the people of the town were famous for farming and raising livestock.

Yaroun is a border town that was abandoned by many residents during the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon in the 1970s. Some also emigrated before then, leaving only about 500 residents. This number increases with the temporary return of expatriates during the summer and other holidays, with records showing that 9,000 people originate from the town.

Both Christians and Muslims live in Yaroun, the mayor explained, while noting that the majority of emigrants have gone to Australia and North and South America.

Samer Wehbe, a journalist from the area, said: “When the expatriates gradually returned, they built beautiful houses that resembled the homes in which they lived abroad, giving the town a wealthy appearance. The majority of townspeople do not live there permanently; only when they come back to Lebanon on holidays and special occasions. Political affiliations remain vague, although the town is located in a pro-Hezbollah area, as it is adjacent to Maroun Al-Ras, in which Hezbollah scored major victories against the Israeli occupation.”

Yaroun is about 125 km from Beirut. Previously, the people of the town were famous for farming and raising livestock. (Arab News)

Mayor Tuhfa said that Matar was born and raised in the US. “I have been the mayor for six years and have never seen him in town,” he said.

Tuhfa explained: “Matar’s mother is also from Yaroun, but she is not related to her husband. Her name is Silvana Firdaus. Matar has one sister who also lives with her mother in the US.”

He added: “The news of Matar’s crime raised questions in the town, which mainly focused on ‘why did he do that?’ His act was even condemned, bearing in mind that no one knows him (Matar) on a personal level.”

Activists’ reactions on social media platforms were mixed. One considered that Matar is “only an American of Lebanese descent, who apparently suffers a deep identity crisis.”

Hadi Matar, 24, center, listens to his public defense attorney Nathaniel Barone, left, addresses the judge while being arraigned in the Chautauqua County Courthouse in Mayville, NY., Saturday, Aug. 13, 2022. (AP)

Hezbollah refrained from commenting on the attack on Rushdie. According to Reuters, an official said the group “had no additional information on the stabbing attack against novelist Salman Rushdie.” The official added: “We don’t know anything about this subject so we will not comment.”

Nevertheless, in recent days, an old video of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah inciting his supporters to kill Rushdie has circulated on social media platforms.


Sandstorm engulfs UAE as authorities urge caution

Sandstorm engulfs UAE as authorities urge caution
Updated 14 August 2022

Sandstorm engulfs UAE as authorities urge caution

Sandstorm engulfs UAE as authorities urge caution
  • The Ministry of Interior urged caution on the roads as visibility dropped below one kilometer in Abu Dhabi and Dubai on Sunday
  • UAE authorities said they have developed an action plan to deal with expected heavy rain and high winds

DUBAI: Thick clouds of dust blanketed most parts of the UAE, as authorities braced for adverse weather conditions expected in the days ahead.

The Ministry of Interior urged caution on the roads as visibility dropped below one kilometer in Abu Dhabi and Dubai on Sunday.

 

Abu Dhabi’s official media office urged motorists to “avoid driving unless absolutely necessary” and red weather alert has been issued different parts of the country.

Earlier this week, UAE authorities said they have developed an action plan to deal with expected heavy rain and high winds over the coming days.

“All local and national teams are highly prepared to ensure an effective and proper response to any risks that may arise as a result of the condition,” the National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority (NCEMA) said in a statement posted on the state news agency (WAM).

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Interior said it is “fully prepared to deal with any emergency situation”.

Last month, seven people died after heavy floods hit the northern and eastern parts of the UAE.


Egypt: At least 41 killed, 55 injured in Giza church fire

Egypt: At least 41 killed, 55 injured in Giza church fire
Updated 47 min 59 sec ago

Egypt: At least 41 killed, 55 injured in Giza church fire

Egypt: At least 41 killed, 55 injured in Giza church fire
  • Dozens taken to local hospitals with fatalities expected to rise
  • President El-Sisi telephones Pope Tawadros II to express condolences, pledge support

CAIRO: The Egyptian Ministry of Health announced that 55 people had been taken to hospital after a fire broke out at the Abu Sefein Church in the north of Giza on Sunday.

In a statement, the Coptic Orthodox Church said that a large fire broke out during the Divine Liturgy, and that a number of worshipers were transferred from the scene to Imbaba General Hospital and Agouza Hospital.

The statement added that, according to sources from the Ministry of Health, the number of deaths has so far reached 41 people with a further 14 injured.

These numbers are unconfirmed, with the tally expected to change.

 

Hossam Abdel Ghaffar, the official spokesman for the Ministry of Health and Population, confirmed that 30 ambulances were dispatched to the church, and people taken to the two local hospitals.

President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi made a phone call to Pope Tawadros II to offer his condolences to the victims of the accident.

During the call, El-Sisi stressed that all state institutions would provide the necessary support to contain the effects of the fire.

Abdel Ghaffar said the state of readiness at hospitals in Giza and Cairo had been raised, and that all blood types and emergency medicines are available at the facilities receiving the injured.

The General Administration of Civil Protection in Giza sent firefighters and vehicles to fight the blaze, which was swiftly brought under control.

Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly sent his sincere condolences to and expressed sympathy for the families of the victims.

Forensics and other authorities, meanwhile, are on the scene to determine the cause of the fire.

Public Prosecutor Hamada Al-Sawy issued a statement that an investigation team had been formed, and that the Public Prosecution would announce its results in due course.

The preliminary examination of the forensic evidence suggests the fire broke out in the air-conditioning system on the second floor of the church building, which includes a number of classrooms, as a result of an electrical fault.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia expressed “great sadness and sorrow” over the fire and offered its deepest and sincere condolences to the government and people of Egypt, wishing the injured a speedy recovery, and security and safety for Egypt and its people, Saudi Press Agency reported.


Iran puts on trial reformist Mostafa Tajzadeh: state media

Iran puts on trial reformist Mostafa Tajzadeh: state media
Updated 14 August 2022

Iran puts on trial reformist Mostafa Tajzadeh: state media

Iran puts on trial reformist Mostafa Tajzadeh: state media
  • Mostafa Tajzadeh was arrested in 2009 and again this year
  • He was previously convicted of harming national security and spreading propaganda against the state

TEHRAN: Iran has put on trial the reformist politician Mostafa Tajzadeh, who was previously jailed and arrested again last month on charges of undermining state security, local media reported.
The 65-year-old — who last year made an unsuccessful bid for the presidency as a reformist and “political prisoner for seven years” — went on trial in Tehran on Saturday, said the judicial authority’s news agency Mizan Online.
“Mostafa Tajzadeh’s hearing was held at Branch 15 of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court” before judge Abolghassem Salavati, it said.
Tajzadeh had served as deputy interior minister during the 1997-2005 tenure of reformist former president Mohammad Khatami.
He was arrested in 2009 during protests disputing the re-election of then president Mahmud Ahmadinejad, which was contested by an opposition backing unsuccessful reformist candidates Mehdi Karoubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi.
Tajzadeh was convicted the following year of harming national security and speading propaganda against the state, and released in 2016 after serving his sentence.
Since his release, Tajzadeh has often called on authorities to free Mousavi and Karoubi, who have been under house arrest for more than a decade over the protests.
He submitted his candidacy in May 2021, having long campaigned for democratic and “structural changes” in the Islamic republic.
He was again arrested on July 8 this year at his home and also faces accusations of “publishing lies to disturb public opinion,” the Mehr news agency has reported.
According to Mizan, Tajzadeh in court faced “three counts, including conspiracy against national security.”
The defendant declined to speak in court, the report added.
His lawyer, Houshang Pourbabai, was quoted as telling the reformist newspaper Etemad that “three days ago, I went to Evin prison to meet my client with the permission of the court.”
“My client refused to meet me because he could not talk to me face to face,” he said, adding that Tajzadeh had also announced that he “would not appear in court.”
Etemad quoted Tajzadeh’s wife as saying the activist “was forced to appear in court against his will.”
Mizan said that, “given Tajzadeh’s refusal to answer questions, the judge announced that he would give his verdict within the legal time limit.”


Confessions by Houthi-affiliated smugglers prove Iran’s role in regional instability: Yemeni minister

Confessions by Houthi-affiliated smugglers prove Iran’s role in regional instability: Yemeni minister
Updated 14 August 2022

Confessions by Houthi-affiliated smugglers prove Iran’s role in regional instability: Yemeni minister

Confessions by Houthi-affiliated smugglers prove Iran’s role in regional instability: Yemeni minister
  • Yemeni security forces earlier busted Houthi-affiliated cell for smuggling weapons from Iran to Hodeida
  • Smuggle operations were supervised by experts from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards

DUBAI: Yemen’s Minister of Information Muammar Al-Eryani said the confessions of a Houthi-affiliated cell about smuggling weapons from Iran to the militia in Hodeida confirmed Tehran’s role in arming the group and undermining truce efforts.

His comments came after Yemen’s Joint Forces released a video of Yemeni men, caught as part of a security operation in the west coast, admitting to smuggling weapons from Iran’s Port of Bandar Abbas to a dealer who works for the Houthis in Hodeida. Such operations, they said, were supervised by experts from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

In a Twitter post, Al-Eryani said the confessions about the smuggling operations “confirm Tehran’s continued supply of weapons to (the) militia in flagrant defiance of international law” and illustrate Iran’s role in undermining de-escalation efforts.

 

He accused Iran of using Houthis to kill Yemeni civilians, cause regional instability and promote terrorism in a way that challenged international interests. He also accused the Islamic state of exploiting the UN-brokered Stockholm Agreement to use Hodeida ports in smuggling weapons.

Al-Eryani called on the international community and UN members to explicitly condemn Iran’s “subversive policies and exert real pressure to end its interference in Yemeni affairs.”

Yemen’s army has repeatedly accused the Iran-backed militia of breaching the truce, which was extended for the third time earlier this month, through consistent attacks on soldiers and civilians.

During a meeting with parliament members, President of Yemeni Presidential Leadership Council Rashad Al-Alimi said the government would not condone targeting of the coalition supporting legitimacy in Yemen.