Gaza’s historic treasures saved by ‘irony of history’

This combination of pictures created on January 11, 2024, shows Gaza City's Omari Mosque on January 5, 2024, the oldest mosque in Gaza, damaged in Israeli bombardment during the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement(L) and a file picture of a Palestinian man reading the Koran in the courtyard of the same mosque on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on March 23, 2023. (AFP)
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This combination of pictures created on January 11, 2024, shows Gaza City's Omari Mosque on January 5, 2024, the oldest mosque in Gaza, damaged in Israeli bombardment during the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement(L) and a file picture of a Palestinian man reading the Koran in the courtyard of the same mosque on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on March 23, 2023. (AFP)
Gaza’s historic treasures saved by ‘irony of history’
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This picture taken on April 21, 2021 shows an exterior view of Qasr al-Basha in Gaza City, where Napoleon Bonaparte slept for several nights during his campaign in Egypt and Palestine. (AFP)
Gaza’s historic treasures saved by ‘irony of history’
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A picture taken on January 5, 2024 shows Gaza City's 17th century Qasr al-Basha or the Pasha's Palace, also known as Radwan dynasty castle, which houses a museum and a girls'school, damaged in Israeli bombardment during the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement. (AFP)
Gaza’s historic treasures saved by ‘irony of history’
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Artifacts are on display in the first ever National Museum of Archaeology in Gaza opend recently by Jawdat Khoudary, a Palestinian businessman and collector, on July 28, 2008. (AFP)
Gaza’s historic treasures saved by ‘irony of history’
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A Palestinian worker inspects the ancient archaeological site of Anthedon Harbour, also know as "al-Blakhiyah", which is located next to a training site for Hamas military, in Gaza City on April 25, 2013. (AFP)
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Updated 16 April 2024
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Gaza’s historic treasures saved by ‘irony of history’

Gaza’s historic treasures saved by ‘irony of history’
  • Israel has killed more than 33,797 Palestinians in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory
  • A Palestinian worker inspects the ancient archaeological site of Anthedon Harbour, also know as "al-Blakhiyah", which is located next to a training site for Hamas military, in Gaza City on April 25, 2013

JERUSALEM: Gaza’s ancient Greek site of Anthedon has been bombed, its “Napoleon’s Palace” destroyed and the only private museum burned down: the war has taken a terrible toll on the rich heritage of the Palestinian territory.
But in a strange twist of fate, some of its greatest historical treasures are safe in a warehouse in Switzerland.
And ironically, it is all thanks to the blockade that made life in the Gaza Strip such a struggle for the past 16 years.
Based on satellite images, the UN cultural organization reckons some 41 historic sites have been damaged since Israel began pounding the besieged territory after the October 7 Hamas attack.




This combination of pictures created on January 11, 2024, shows a file picture of the 17th century Qasr al-Basha in Gaza City on April 21, 2021, where Napoleon Bonaparte slept for several nights during his campaign in Egypt and Palestine (bottom), and the same building severely damaged in Israeli bombardment during the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinians. (AFP)

On the ground, Palestinian archaeologist Fadel Al-Otol keeps tabs on the destruction in real time.
When he has electricity and Internet access, photos pour into a WhatsApp group he set up with 40 or so young peers he mobilized to watch over the territory’s vast array of ancient sites and monuments.
As a teenager in the 1990s, Otol was hired by European archaeological missions before going on to study in Switzerland and at the Louvre Museum in Paris.




This combination of pictures shows one taken on January 5, 2024 of Gaza City's historic Hammam Al-Samra, which used to be the only active traditional Turkish bath remaining in Gaza, located in the Zeitun quarter of the old city before it was destroyed in Israeli bombardment during the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement and another one (L) dating back to December 4, 2005 with Palestinian youths relaxing in the same steam bath. (AFP)

“All the archaeological remains in the north have been hit,” he told AFP by phone from Gaza.
The human toll since the October 7 Hamas attack has been chilling.
A total of 1,170 people were killed in the unprecedented raid on Israel, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
Almost 34,000 have died in Gaza in unrelenting Israeli retaliation, according to the territory’s health ministry.
The damage to Gaza’s history has also been immense.




Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas views pottery specimens during his visit to the exhibition "Gaza, at the crossroad of civilizations" at the Art and History Museum in Geneva on April 26, 2007. (AFP)

“Blakhiya (the ancient Greek city of Anthedon) was directly bombed. There’s a huge hole,” said Otol.
He said part of the site, near a Hamas barracks where “we hadn’t started excavating,” was hit.
The 13th-century Al-Basha palace in Gaza City’s old town “has been completely destroyed. There was bombing and (then) it was bulldozed.
“It held hundreds of ancient objects and magnificent sarcophagi,” Otol added as he shared recent photos of the ruins.




Artifacts are on display in the first ever National Museum of Archaeology in Gaza opend recently by Jawdat Khoudary, a Palestinian businessman and collector, on July 28, 2008. (AFP)

Napoleon is said to have based himself in the ochre stone edifice at the disastrous end of his Egyptian campaign in 1799.
The room where the French emperor supposedly slept was full of Byzantine artefacts.
“Our best finds were displayed in the Basha,” Jean-Baptiste Humbert of the French Biblical and Archaeological School in Jerusalem (EBAF) told AFP.
But we know little of their fate, he said. “Did someone remove the objects before blowing the building up?“
Nerves were frayed even further when the director of Israeli Antiquities, Eli Escusido, posted a video on Instagram of Israeli soldiers surrounded by vases and ancient pottery in the EBAF warehouse in Gaza City.
Much of what has been unearthed in digs in Gaza was stored either at the Al-Basha museum or the warehouse.
Palestinians quickly accused the army of pillaging. But EBAF archaeologist Rene Elter said he has seen no evidence of “state looting.”
“My colleagues were able to return to the site. The soldiers opened boxes. We don’t know if they took anything,” he told AFP.
However, he added: “Every day when Fadel (al-Otol) calls me, I’m afraid he’ll tell me that one of our colleagues has died or that such and such a site has been destroyed.”
Archaeology is a highly political issue in Israel and the Palestinian territories, with discoveries often used to justify the claims of the two warring peoples.
While Israel has an army of archaeologists who have unearthed an impressive number of ancient treasures, Gaza remains relatively untouched by the trowel despite a rich past stretching back thousands of years.

The only sheltered natural harbor between the Sinai and Lebanon, Gaza has been for centuries a crossroads of civilizations.
A pivot point between Africa and Asia and a hub of the incense trade, it was coveted by the Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, Romans and Ottomans.
A key figure in excavating this glorious past over the last few decades has been Jawdat Khoudary, a Gazan construction magnate and collector.
Gaza, with its “seafront real estate,” had a property boom in the 1990s after the Oslo peace accords and the creation of the Palestinian Authority.
When building workers dug up the soil, they came across lots and lots of ancient objects. Khoudary amassed a treasure trove of artefacts that he opened up to foreign archaeologists.
Marc-Andre Haldimann, then curator of MAH, Geneva’s art and history museum, couldn’t believe his eyes when he was invited to have a look around the garden of Khoudary’s mansion in 2004.
“We found ourselves in front of 4,000 objects, including an avenue of Byzantine columns,” he told AFP.
Quickly an idea took shape to organize a major exhibition to highlight Gaza’s past at the MAH, and then to build a museum in the territory itself so that the Palestinians could take ownership of their own heritage.
At the end of 2006, around 260 objects from the Khoudary collection left Gaza for Geneva, with some later going on to be part of another hit show at the Institut du Monde Arabe (IMA) in Paris.
But geopolitics changed along the way. In June 2007, Hamas drove the Palestinian Authority from Gaza. And Israel imposed its blockade.
As a result, the Gazan artefacts could no longer return home and remained stuck in Geneva, while the archaeological museum project fizzled out.
But Khoudary did not give up hope. He built a museum-hotel called Al-Mathaf, museum in Arabic, on the Mediterranean coast north of Gaza City.
But then came the Israeli ground offensive after the Hamas attack on October 7, which began in Gaza’s north.

“Al-Mathaf remained under Israeli control for months,” Khoudary, who fled Gaza for Egypt, told AFP. “As soon as they left, I asked some people to go there to see what state the place was in. I was shocked. Several items were missing and the hall had been set on fire.
His mansion was also destroyed during fierce fighting in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood of Gaza City.
“The Israelis flattened the garden with bulldozers... I don’t know whether objects were buried (by the bulldozers) or whether the marble columns were broken or looted. I can’t find words,” he added.
The Israeli military did not comment on specific sites. But it accused Hamas of systematically using civilian structures like cultural heritage sites, government buildings, schools, shelters and hospitals for military purposes.
“Israel maintains its commitments to international law, including by affording the necessary special protections,” the army added in a statement.
While part of Khoudary’s collection has been lost, the treasures held in Switzerland remain intact, saved by the blockade and the red tape that delayed their return.
“There were 106 crates ready to go” for years, said Beatrice Blandin, the MAH museum’s current curator.
Safely far from the war raging in Gaza, “the objects are in good condition,” she added. “We restored some of the bronze pieces that were slightly corroded and repacked everything.
“We just had to be sure that the convoy would not be blocked,” she told AFP. “We were waiting for that green light.”
But with any return impossible for the moment, Blandin said “discussions are under way” for a new Gaza exhibition in Switzerland.
Khoudary is excited by the idea.
“The most important collection of objects on the history of Gaza is in Geneva. If there is a new show, it will allow the whole world to learn about our history,” he told AFP from Cairo.
“It’s an irony of history,” said Haldimann, who is trying to get his friend Fadel Al-Otol safely out of Gaza.
“A new Gaza exhibition would show once again that Gaza... is anything but a black hole.”

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Houthi missile strikes China-bound oil tanker in Red Sea

Houthi missile strikes China-bound oil tanker in Red Sea
Updated 19 May 2024
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Houthi missile strikes China-bound oil tanker in Red Sea

Houthi missile strikes China-bound oil tanker in Red Sea
  • The vessel and crew are safe and continuing to its next port of call: UKMTO
  • The incident occurred 76 nautical miles (140 kilometers) off Yemen’s Hodeidah

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s Houthi militia launched an anti-ship ballistic missile into the Red Sea on Saturday morning, striking an oil tanker traveling from Russia to China, according to US Central Command, the latest in a series of Houthi maritime strikes. 

CENTCOM said that at 1 a.m. on Saturday, a Houthi anti-ship ballistic missile struck a Panamanian-flagged, Greek-owned and operated oil tanker named M/T Wind, which had just visited Russia and was on its way to China, causing “flooding which resulted in the loss of propulsion and steering.”

Slamming the Houthis for attacking ships, the US military said: “The crew of M/T Wind was able to restore propulsion and steering, and no casualties were reported. M/T Wind resumed its course under its power. This continued malign and reckless behavior by the Iranian-backed Houthis threatens regional stability and endangers the lives of mariners across the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.”

Earlier on Saturday, two UK naval agencies said that a ship sailing in the Red Sea suffered minor damage after being hit by an item thought to be a missile launched by Yemen’s Houthi militia from an area under their control.

The UK Maritime Trade Operations, which monitors ship attacks, said on Saturday morning that it received an alarm from a ship master about an “unknown object” striking the ship’s port quarter, 98 miles south of Hodeidah, inflicting minor damage.

“The vessel and crew are safe and continuing to its next port of call,” UKMTO said in its notice about the incident, encouraging ships in the Red Sea to exercise caution and report any incidents.

Hours earlier, the same UK maritime agency stated that the assault happened 76 nautical miles northwest of Hodeidah.

Ambrey, a UK security firm, also reported receiving information regarding a missile strike on a crude oil tanker traveling under the Panama flag, around 10 nautical miles southwest of Yemen’s government-controlled town of Mokha on the Red Sea, which resulted in a fire on the ship.

The Houthis did not claim responsibility for fresh ship strikes on Saturday, although they generally do so days after the attack.

Since November, the Houthis have seized a commercial ship, sunk another, and claimed to have fired hundreds of ballistic missiles at international commercial and naval ships in the Gulf of Aden, Bab Al-Mandab Strait, and Red Sea in what the Yemeni militia claims is support for the Palestinian people.

The Houthis claim that they solely strike Israel-linked ships and those traveling or transporting products to Israel in order to pressure the latter to cease its war in Gaza.

The US responded to the Houthi attacks by branding them as terrorists, forming a coalition of marine task forces to safeguard ships, and unleashing hundreds of strikes on Houthi sites in Yemen.

Local and international environmentalists have long warned that Houthi attacks on ships carrying fuel or other chemicals might lead to an environmental calamity near Yemen’s coast.

The early warning came in February when the Houthis launched a missile that seriously damaged the MV Rubymar, a Belize-flagged and Lebanese-operated ship carrying 22,000 tonnes of ammonium phosphate-sulfate NPS fertilizer and more than 200 tonnes of fuel while cruising in the Red Sea. 

The Houthis have defied demands for de-escalation in the Red Sea and continue to organize massive rallies in regions under their control to express support for their campaign. On Friday, thousands of Houthi sympathizers took to the streets of Sanaa, Saada, and other cities under their control to show their support for the war on ships.

The Houthis shouted in unison, “We have no red line, and what’s coming is far worse,” as they raised the Palestinian and militia flags in Al-Sabeen Square on Friday, repeating their leader’s promise to intensify assaults on ships.

Meanwhile, a Yemeni government soldier was killed and another was injured on Saturday while fending off a Houthi attack on their position near the border between the provinces of Taiz and Lahj.

According to local media, the Houthis attacked the government’s Nation’s Shield Forces in the contested Hayfan district of Taiz province, attempting to capture control of additional territory.

The Houthis were forced to stop their attack after encountering tough resistance from government troops.

The attack occurred a day after the Nation’s Shield Forces sent dozens of armed vehicles and personnel to the same locations to boost their forces and repel Houthi attacks. 


Israel war cabinet minister says to quit unless Gaza plan approved

Israel war cabinet minister says to quit unless Gaza plan approved
Updated 56 min 43 sec ago
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Israel war cabinet minister says to quit unless Gaza plan approved

Israel war cabinet minister says to quit unless Gaza plan approved
  • The Israeli army has been battling Hamas militants across the Gaza Strip for more than seven months

JERUSALEM: Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz said Saturday he would resign from the body unless Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved a post-war plan for the Gaza Strip.

“The war cabinet must formulate and approve by June 8 an action plan that will lead to the realization of six strategic goals of national importance.. (or) we will be forced to resign from the government,” Gantz said, referring to his party, in a televised address directed at Netanyahu.

Gantz said the six goals included toppling Hamas, ensuring Israeli security control over the Palestinian territory and returning Israeli hostages.

“Along with maintaining Israeli security control, establish an American, European, Arab and Palestinian administration that will manage civilian affairs in the Gaza Strip and lay the foundation for a future alternative that is not Hamas or (Mahmud) Abbas,” he said, referring to the president of the Palestinian Authority.

He also urged the normalization of ties with Saudi Arabia “as part of an overall move that will create an alliance with the free world and the Arab world against Iran and its affiliates.”

Netanyahu responded to Gantz’s threat on Saturday by slamming the minister’s demands as “washed-up words whose meaning is clear: the end of the war and a defeat for Israel, the abandoning of most of the hostages, leaving Hamas intact and the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

The Israeli army has been battling Hamas militants across the Gaza Strip for more than seven months.

But broad splits have emerged in the Israeli war cabinet in recent days after Hamas fighters regrouped in northern Gaza, an area where Israel previously said the group had been neutralized.

Netanyahu came under personal attack from Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Wednesday for failing to rule out an Israeli government in Gaza after the war.

The Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s attack on October 7 on southern Israel which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

The militants also seized about 250 hostages, 124 of whom Israel estimates remain in Gaza, including 37 the military says are dead.

Israel’s military retaliation against Hamas has killed at least 35,386 people, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run Gaza’s health ministry, and an Israeli siege has brought dire food shortages and the threat of famine.


Iran to send experts to ally Venezuela to help with medical accelerators

Medical accelerators are used in radiation treatments for cancer patients. (AFP file photo)
Medical accelerators are used in radiation treatments for cancer patients. (AFP file photo)
Updated 19 May 2024
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Iran to send experts to ally Venezuela to help with medical accelerators

Medical accelerators are used in radiation treatments for cancer patients. (AFP file photo)
  • “Venezuela has a number of accelerators in its hospitals that have been stopped due to the embargo,” the message said

CARACAS: Iran on Saturday said it will send experts to its ally Venezuela to help with medical accelerators in hospitals it said had been stopped due to Western sanctions.
Venezuela requested Iran’s help, according to a message on the social media platform X by the Iranian government attributed to the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.
“Venezuela has a number of accelerators in its hospitals that have been stopped due to the embargo,” the message said.
Medical accelerators are used in radiation treatments for cancer patients.
Venezuela is also an ally of Russia and China.
The return of US sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry has made its alliance with Iran critical to keeping its lagging energy sector afloat. Washington last year temporarily relaxed sanctions on Venezuela’s promise to allow a competitive presidential election. The US now says only some conditions were met. 

 


Three Syrians missing after cargo ship sinks off Romania

Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels. (AFP file photo)
Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels. (AFP file photo)
Updated 19 May 2024
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Three Syrians missing after cargo ship sinks off Romania

Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels. (AFP file photo)
  • Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels, while the search for the other three, “all of Syrian nationality,” was continuing, the statement said

BUCHAREST: Romanian rescue teams on Saturday were scouring the Black Sea for three Syrian sailors who went missing when their cargo ship sank off the coast, the naval authority said.
The Mohammed Z sank with 11 crew on board, 26 nautical miles off the Romanian town of Sfantu Gheorghe in the Danube delta in the Black Sea on Saturday morning, officials said in a statement.
The ship sailing under the Tanzanian flag was carrying nine Syrian and two Egyptian nationals, it said.
After receiving an alert at “around 4:00am,” naval authorities and border police were dispatched, with two nearby commercial vessels also joining the search and rescue operation.
Eight sailors were rescued by one of the nearby commercial vessels, while the search for the other three, “all of Syrian nationality,” was continuing, the statement said.
The cause of the accident was unclear.
According to the specialist website Marine Traffic, the ship departed from the Turkish port of Mersin and was heading to the Romanian port of Sulina.
Since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine, drifting sea mines have posed a constant threat for ships in the Black Sea, with countries bordering it doubling down on demining efforts.
Ensuring safe passage through the Black Sea has gained particular importance since Romania’s Danube ports became hubs for the transit of grain following the Russian blockade of Ukraine’s ports.
 

 


Iraq parliament fails to elect a speaker

A general view of the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad, Iraq. (REUTERS file photo)
A general view of the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad, Iraq. (REUTERS file photo)
Updated 19 May 2024
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Iraq parliament fails to elect a speaker

A general view of the Iraqi parliament in Baghdad, Iraq. (REUTERS file photo)
  • A coalition of three Sunni blocs backed Issawi, while Mashhadani, who served as Iraq’s first speaker following the adoption of the 2005 constitution, received the support of the former speaker Mohamed Al-Halbussi’s sizeable bloc

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s lawmakers failed to elect a speaker on Saturday as neither of the two main candidates secured a majority during a tense session of parliament.
It is the latest in a series of failed attempts to replace the former head of parliament who was dismissed in November, with political bickering and divisions between key Sunni parties derailing every attempt so far.
Saturday’s vote was the closest yet to selecting a new head of the 329-member parliament, with 311 lawmakers showing up for the session and the leading candidate falling just seven votes short.
The parliament’s media office announced that 137 lawmakers chose Mahmoud Al-Mashhadani, the oldest MP, while 158 picked Salem Al-Issawi.
However, candidates require at least 165 votes to win.
Many lawmakers did not return for a second attempt on Saturday, with local media sharing videos of a brief brawl between MPs and reporting that at least one of them was injured.
The parliament’s media office then announced that the session had been adjourned.
Iraq, a mosaic of different ethnic and religious groups, is governed by complex power-sharing arrangements.
The largely ceremonial role of president traditionally goes to a Kurd, that of prime minister to a Shiite, while the speaker of parliament is usually Sunni.
But parliament is dominated by a coalition of pro-Iran Shiite parties, reflecting the country’s largest religious group.
A coalition of three Sunni blocs backed Issawi, while Mashhadani, who served as Iraq’s first speaker following the adoption of the 2005 constitution, received the support of the former speaker Mohamed Al-Halbussi’s sizeable bloc.
The new speaker will replace Halbussi, the influential politician dismissed by Iraq’s top court in November last year after a lawmaker accused him of forging a resignation letter.
Halbussi had been the country’s highest-ranking Sunni official since he first became a speaker in 2018.
The new speaker’s stint will not last long with the general election due in 2025.