Syria’s ancient adobe houses threatened by war, displacement

Syria’s ancient adobe houses threatened by war, displacement
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Umm Amuda al-Kabira in Aleppo province is among a handful of villages where residents long used to live in small domed houses made of mud bricks and brittle hay. (AFP)
Syria’s ancient adobe houses threatened by war, displacement
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A photo shows traditional mud-brick houses known as 'beehive houses' in the village of Umm Amuda al-Kabira in Aleppo's eastern countryside, north of Damascus. on August 11, 2023. (AFP)
Syria’s ancient adobe houses threatened by war, displacement
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Traditional mud houses that residents of northern Syria have built for thousands of years risk disappearing, as 12 years of war have emptied villages and left the homes crumbling. (AFP)
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Updated 07 September 2023
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Syria’s ancient adobe houses threatened by war, displacement

Syria’s ancient adobe houses threatened by war, displacement
  • Aleppo province was the scene of fierce battles from 2012 until Syrian government forces, aided by Russians, ousted rebels and Daesh extremists
  • While the violence has waned in the area, the ancient houses have been abandoned amid instability and economic hardship 

UMM AMUDA KABIRA, Syria: Traditional mud-brick houses that the people of northern Syria have built for thousands of years risk disappearing, as 12 years of war have emptied villages and left the buildings crumbling.
Also knowns as “beehive houses,” the conical adobe structures are designed to keep cool in the blazing desert sun, while their thick walls also retain warmth in the winter.
Umm Amuda Kabira village in Aleppo province is among a handful of places where residents long used to live in the small domed houses, made of mud mixed with brittle hay.
“Our village once had 3,000 to 3,500 residents and some 200 mud houses,” said Mahmud Al-Mheilej, standing beside deserted homes with weeds growing out of the roofs.
“Everyone left” after the region saw heavy fighting and was overrun by Daesh group jihadists, the schoolteacher in his 50s told AFP.
Aleppo province was the scene of fierce battles between Syrian government forces, rebels and Daesh extremists from 2012 until Russian-backed government forces gradually ousted them.
While the violence has waned in the area, instability and economic hardship have long become a fact of life across Syria.
“No more than 200 of us have returned” to the village, said Mheilej, who now lives in a concrete building close by.
Inside one traditional house, crevasses snaked along white walls riddled with holes.
All of the mud-brick homes have been abandoned, Mheilej said, pointing at a tumbledown wall, the remnants of a collapsed house.
“There is no one left to take care of the houses, that’s why they are decaying,” he added. “In time, they will disappear without a trace.”

Syria’s war broke out in 2011 and quickly escalated into a conflict that pulled in foreign powers and jihadists.
The fighting has killed more than 500,000 people, and millions have been displaced.
“We were born and raised inside the mud houses,” said Jamal Al-Ali, 66, from outside the ancestral home his family was forced to abandon in nearby Haqla.
The domed structure kept inhabitants cool in the summer and warm in the winter, said Ali, as he shared a meal with his family on a straw carpet.
Local masons were among those who fled the fighting, leaving the region short of their ancestral know-how.
Issa Khodr, 58, who took refuge in neighboring Lebanon, is one of the last Syrians with expertise in building the structures, which require regular upkeep.
With support from local charity Arcenciel, he has recreated the rustic dwellings in the Bekaa Valley, home to a large Syrian refugee population.
“I learnt the trade in the village when I was 14 because every time someone wanted to build a mud house, others would help,” said the former civil servant.
“Because of the war, the houses are disappearing, and so is our profession,” said Khodr.
Lebanese architect Fadlallah Dagher said the construction technique “is believed to have originated during the Neolithic period some 8,000 years ago.”
The project aims to pass on knowledge among the refugees, Dagher said, so that “once they return to their devastated country, which lacks resources, they can build their own homes.”
 


Hezbollah’s attack on Israeli military command center injures 14

Hezbollah’s attack on Israeli military command center injures 14
Updated 23 min 16 sec ago
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Hezbollah’s attack on Israeli military command center injures 14

Hezbollah’s attack on Israeli military command center injures 14
  • Iran-backed group takes confrontations to new level, directly targets soldiers
  • Hezbollah said operation was a ‘response to the killing of several resistance fighters in Ain Baal and Shehabiya in southern Lebanon’

BEIRUT: The Iran-backed Hezbollah launched on Wednesday “a combined attack with guided missiles and explosive drones on a military reconnaissance command center in Arab Al-Aramshe,” as it targeted the Israeli army south of the border with Lebanon.

The group claimed responsibility for the operation, saying that “it is in response to the killing of several resistance fighters in Ain Baal and Shehabiya in southern Lebanon.”

Israeli media outlets announced that “a kamikaze drone struck an Israeli army gathering in Arab Al-Aramshe, western Galilee, resulting in six casualties, at least.”

They added: “An Israeli army helicopter was hit while rescuing the injured in Arab Al-Aramshe.”

The Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya said that it had received 14 injured people.

Hezbollah has adopted new tactics of late. According to a security source, these “were seen last week, when it (Hezbollah) detonated explosive devices targeting Israeli soldiers on the border, injuring four Golani Brigade members.”

The source added that Hezbollah “has taken the confrontations to another level by directly targeting Israeli soldiers.”

Israeli forces launched immediate retaliation by bombing and targeting phosphorus bombs on the border area.

This region included the outskirts of Rachaya Al-Fekhar, Fardis, Al-Habbariyeh, Alma Al-Shaab, Dhahira, Marwahin, and Yarin, as well as the city of Nabatieh, where a house belonging to the Sayyed family was destroyed.

No casualties were reported in the incidents, but the border region has witnessed the Israeli military’s dramatic targeting and killing of two key figures.

Hezbollah is mourning the death of Ismail Youssef Baz, a senior commander of the organization, while the Amal Movement — an ally of Hezbollah — has been coming to terms with the death of Hussein Qasim Karsht.

Israeli media reported that Baz, who was killed in his car following a drone attack, was “the commander of Hezbollah’s coastal sector.”

It added: “He was working on promoting and planning the launching of rockets and anti-tank missiles toward Israel from the Lebanese coastline. During this ongoing war, he organized and planned to carry out various plans against Israel.”

The children in Israel’s prisons
Ongoing hostage-for-prisoners exchange opens the world’s eyes to arrests, interrogations, and even abuse of Palestinian children by Israeli authorities
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Israel accused of stepping up work on illegal settlements since start of Gaza war

Israel accused of stepping up work on illegal settlements since start of Gaza war
Updated 19 min 33 sec ago
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Israel accused of stepping up work on illegal settlements since start of Gaza war

Israel accused of stepping up work on illegal settlements since start of Gaza war
  • Building plans in East Jerusalem being fast-tracked at ‘unprecedented speed,’ rights organization says

LONDON: Israel’s government has stepped up the building of settlements across East Jerusalem, with over 20 projects involving thousands of housing units advanced since it launched its war on Gaza six months ago, according to planning documents seen by the Guardian.
While many government bodies were shuttered or had limited operation following Oct. 7, planning authorities continued to advance plans at “unprecedented speed,” Sari Kronish, from the Israeli rights organization Bimkom — Planners for Planning Rights, told the Guardian.
“The fast-tracking of these plans has been unparalleled in the last six months,” Kronish added
Significantly, two new settlements were approved in East Jerusalem, the first such approvals in over a decade. One development involves the expansion of Kidmat Zion, a high-security settlement in the Palestinian neighborhood of Ras Al-Amud, which was decided on two days after the Oct. 7 attacks.
In the Palestinian community of Beit Safafa, encircled by these developments, work has also resumed on the Givat Hamatos and new Givat Shaked projects.
Givat Hamatos was shut down for a decade after international opposition. Work resumed in 2020, and last month the site was bustling with workers, heavy machinery, and trucks.
Givat Shaked, which received full planning permission on Jan. 4, will be built on the northwestern side of Beit Safafa.
It entails high-rise buildings with 700 housing units on the only land in Beit Safafa where the 17,000-strong Muslim majority could expand to accommodate young people. Palestinians are unable to build larger homes in the neighborhood, as well as elsewhere, due to bureaucratic and other restrictions.
The Givat Shaked project has faced significant opposition due to potential threats to the Oslo peace accords, leading to international criticism and a temporary halt urged by the US.
Despite this, the project gained momentum two years ago, endorsed by then Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked.
He rejected any claims of Palestinian control over Jerusalem’s east, and said it was “unthinkable to prevent development and construction in this area, or anywhere else in the city.”
“Our family has been here for 250 years … Now I have a black hole in my heart because I can’t see how my children and grandchildren can spend their lives here,” Ahmed Salman, the chair of Beit Safafa’s community council, told the Guardian.
“We had good relations with the municipality once, but not in recent years. Since the war, life goes on, but they approved the plan and dismissed all our objections. We are appealing, but I’m not optimistic,” the 71-year-old said.
Another contentious project, the Lower Aqueduct, was fully approved on Dec. 29. This settlement is planned adjacent to a Palestinian neighborhood, further complicating the demographic and political landscape.
“Many of the settlement plans are strategically designated for areas along the southern perimeter of East Jerusalem,” Amy Cohen, of Israeli human rights NGO Ir Amim, said.
Cohen added: “If constructed, they would further fracture the Palestinian space … and create a ‘sealing-off’ effect of East Jerusalem from Bethlehem and the southern West Bank.
“Such moves directly undermine conditions necessary for a viable independent Palestinian state with a contiguous capital in East Jerusalem. All this while bringing planning and building for Palestinians in the city to a complete stop.”
The surge in settlement activity aligns with the goals of the Israeli settler movement, supported by Israel’s current government, which is described by a UN report as the most right-wing in the nation’s history.
Palestinians account for roughly 40 percent of Jerusalem’s population of around 1 million. Successive Israeli governments have sought to maintain the city’s Jewish majority.
Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move that was not recognized by the majority of the international community. International law prohibits the permanent settlement of militarily occupied territory.
This expansion challenges the possibility of a Palestinian state and strains Israel’s relations with the international community, including the Biden administration.

The children in Israel’s prisons
Ongoing hostage-for-prisoners exchange opens the world’s eyes to arrests, interrogations, and even abuse of Palestinian children by Israeli authorities
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El-Sisi hosts Russian spy chief in Cairo

El-Sisi hosts Russian spy chief in Cairo
Updated 23 min 2 sec ago
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El-Sisi hosts Russian spy chief in Cairo

El-Sisi hosts Russian spy chief in Cairo
  • Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi met with Russia’s spy chief Sergei Naryshkin, and his accompanying delegation, in Cairo
  • Talks focused on the situation in the Middle East and ways to achieve regional stability amid the crisis in the Gaza Strip and escalating regional tensions

CAIRO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi hosted Russian spy chief Sergei Naryshkin and his accompanying delegation in Cairo.

The meeting was attended by the director of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service, Maj. Gen. Abbas Kamel.

Talks focused on the situation in the Middle East and ways to achieve regional stability amid the crisis in the Gaza Strip and escalating regional tensions.

Ahmed Fahmy, presidential spokesman, said that El-Sisi and Naryshkin also discussed a number of African issues, counterterrorism efforts and the latest developments in the international arena, especially in Ukraine and Afghanistan.

They reviewed Egypt’s efforts to quell regional tensions. El-Sisi highlighted Egypt’s vision regarding the urgent need for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and the unimpeded flow of humanitarian aid into the enclave. The Egyptian leader called for fundamental steps to defuse regional tensions.

Egypt also supports a just and comprehensive settlement of the Palestinian issue, and the establishment of the Palestinian state, along the June 4, 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, El-Sisi said.

The two sides reiterated their commitment to coordination based on longstanding historical ties.

On April 11, El-Sisi spoke to Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer via telephone.

The Egyptian leader highlighted the importance of the international community preventing military escalation in Gaza and a humanitarian catastrophe.

He warned of the “extreme danger” of regional escalation, which “threatens the security and stability” of the Middle East.

The children in Israel’s prisons
Ongoing hostage-for-prisoners exchange opens the world’s eyes to arrests, interrogations, and even abuse of Palestinian children by Israeli authorities
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US destroys two Houthi Red Sea drones

US destroys two Houthi Red Sea drones
Updated 22 min 18 sec ago
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US destroys two Houthi Red Sea drones

US destroys two Houthi Red Sea drones
  • Houthis fired two drones at US Navy and commercial ships in the Red Sea, but they were intercepted by US Navy forces before reaching their objectives
  • Houthis said that the US and UK launched two airstrikes on Bajil District in the western province of Hodeidah

AL-MUKALLA: The US Central Command said its forces destroyed on Tuesday two drones fired by Yemen’s Houthi militia, the latest round of skirmishes between the US-led marine coalition and the Houthis in the Red Sea.

On Tuesday morning, the Houthis fired two drones at US Navy and commercial ships in the Red Sea, but they were intercepted by US Navy forces before reaching their objectives. “There were no injuries or damage reported by U.S., coalition, or commercial ships. It was determined the UAVs presented an imminent threat to U.S., coalition, and merchant vessels in the region,” CENTCOM said in a statement on X on Wednesday morning.

The Houthis said that the US and UK launched two airstrikes on Bajil District in the western province of Hodeidah on Tuesday but provided no information about the targeted locations or if they caused any human or property damage.

Since November, the Houthis have launched hundreds of ballistic missiles and drones at commercial and navy ships in the Red Sea, Bab Al-Mandab Strait, and Gulf of Aden, claiming to be acting in sympathy with Palestinians. In response to the Houthi attacks, the US formed a coalition of marine forces to defend the Red Sea and launched hundreds of airstrikes on Houthi targets in Sanaa, Saada, and other Yemeni areas under Houthi control.

The children in Israel’s prisons
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Israel-Hamas talks on Gaza truce ‘stalling’: mediator Qatar

A cloud of smoke erupts down the road as a man drives an animal-drawn cart loaded with jerrycans in Nuseirat in central Gaza.
A cloud of smoke erupts down the road as a man drives an animal-drawn cart loaded with jerrycans in Nuseirat in central Gaza.
Updated 24 min 15 sec ago
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Israel-Hamas talks on Gaza truce ‘stalling’: mediator Qatar

A cloud of smoke erupts down the road as a man drives an animal-drawn cart loaded with jerrycans in Nuseirat in central Gaza.
  • “We are going through a sensitive stage with some stalling, and we are trying as much as possible to address this stalling,” Qatar’s prime minister said

DOHA: Negotiations between Israel and Hamas to secure a truce in Gaza and a release of hostages have stalled, Qatar’s prime minister said on Wednesday.
“We are going through a sensitive stage with some stalling, and we are trying as much as possible to address this stalling,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told a news conference with Romanian Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu.
Qatar, with the United States and Egypt, has been engaged in weeks of behind-the-scenes talks to secure a truce in Gaza and the release of Israeli hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.
Negotiators are trying to “move forward and put an end to the suffering that the people in Gaza are experiencing and returning the hostages,” Sheikh Mohammed said.
The mediators had hoped to secure a ceasefire before the start of Ramadan, but progress repeatedly faltered without any cessation of hostilities in the Muslim holy month which ended last week.
Instead, fears have grown of the months-long war in Gaza spilling over into a regional conflict after Iran’s first-ever direct attack on its arch-foe Israel this weekend.
The Qatari premier said Doha had “warned from the beginning of this war against the expansion of the circle of conflict, and today we see conflicts on different fronts.”
“We constantly call on the international community to assume its responsibilities and stop this war,” he added, saying people of Gaza faced “siege and starvation” with humanitarian aid being used as a “tool for political blackmail.”
The war began when Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on Israel that resulted in about 1,170 deaths, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
Israel’s military has waged a retaliatory offensive against Hamas that has killed 33,899 people in Gaza, most of them women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
Palestinian militants seized about 250 Israeli and foreign hostages during the October 7 attack on Israel, but dozens were released during a week-long truce in November.
Israel estimates 129 remain in Gaza, including 34 who are presumed dead.

The children in Israel’s prisons
Ongoing hostage-for-prisoners exchange opens the world’s eyes to arrests, interrogations, and even abuse of Palestinian children by Israeli authorities
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