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Syrian Kurdish leader reportedly detained in Prague

Turkish media reported on Sunday morning that Salih Muslim, the former Kurdish leader of the Democratic Union Party in Syria, has been arrested in Prague.

Muslim was influential in leading the Kurdish drive to carve out an autonomous area in eastern Syria, which has become a key partner of the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State.

Czech police confirmed that they had detained a person due to an Interpol request.

“Prague police detained on Saturday night on the basis of a prior consent of a public prosecutor a 67-year-old foreigner,” the statement said. “After the necessary actions he was placed in a police cell. Ankara was informed of his international detention.”

The Movement for a Democratic Society, which is an umbrella governing group in eastern Syria that includes the Kurdistan Democratic Party (PYD), released a statement on Sunday condemning the “illegal incident” in Czech Republic.

The statement claimed: “What happened in Czech is an immoral act and contrary to the values of international norms and reflects the extent of Turkish elements to penetrate into the European arena.” The statement calls for demonstrations against Turkey and support to release Muslim at the UN.

According to Turkish news agency Anadolu, Muslim was attending an event in Prague and staying at the Marriott Hotel. He was detained late in the day on February 24 after Interpol notified Czech authorities that Muslim is wanted in Turkey.

Turkey will now request that he be arrested and extradited. “Turkish authorities from the Ministry of Justice and General Directorate of Security, who previously requested Czech authorities to detain Muslim after he was spotted, said they have started procedures for his extradition to Turkey,” the Daily Sabah reported.

The former Syrian Kurdish leader has been traveling extensively in Europe and was seen at meetings in Brussels and Geneva.

On February 19, he gave an interview to Deutsche Welle discussing the ongoing conflict in Afrin between the Kurdish People’s Protection Units and Turkish army. He discussed the chance that the Syrian regime might enter into the Kurdish area of northwest Syria to help stop the Turkish offensive. During the interview he said there was no deal at the moment.

He claimed, “The Turkish government is occupying a part of Syria and trying to occupy part of Afrin and make demographic change.” He asserted that even though the Kurds might seek help from Damascus because they are “part of Syria,” that they would not let Iranian-backed groups such as Hezbollah into Afrin. He advocated for a democratic Syria.

Muslim was born in 1951 near Kobani in Syria. He studied engineering in Turkey before becoming a Kurdish political activist. In 2010 he joined the PYD and returned to Syria after the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011. The PYD and the YPG with which it is affiliated played a key role in fighting ISIS in 2014 and eventually became partners in the Syrian Democratic Forces and the US-led coalition that liberated Raqqa in 2017.

In November 2016 Turkey issued an arrest warrant for Muslim and several other leaders of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The arrest warrant accused Muslim of playing a role in a February 2016 car bombing that killed 29 people in Ankara. The bombing targeted Turkish security forces. A ceasefire between Turkey and the PKK had ended in 2015 and the Ankara bombing was alleged to be part of a PKK terror campaign against Turkey. Ankara accuses the PYD and PKK of being linked.

The reported detention of Muslim will be an important test of Czech-Turkish relations as well as the fraught relationship between Turkey and the European Union.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized Turkey’s use of Interpol arrest warrants after Turkey sought to detain a German writer in Spain. Turkey has sought the arrest of dozens in Europe after a failed 2016 coup and European lawmakers have been critical of extraditing suspects to Turkey.

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Pope says Syria being ‘martyred,’ urges humanitarian aid for Ghouta

VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis on Sunday said Syria was being “martyred” by continued attacks killing civilians in the eastern Ghouta district, calling for an immediate end to violence and access to humanitarian aid.

“All this is inhuman,” Francis told tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square for his weekly blessing. He spoke hours after the U.N. adopted a resolution demanding a 30-day truce across Syria to allow aid access and medical evacuation.

The U.N. Security Council resolution on Saturday followed seven straight days of bombing by pro-government forces on the besieged eastern suburbs, in one of the deadliest offensives of the war.

UN approves Syria ceasefire, but who will listen?, February 25, 2018 (Reuters)

The Council voted unanimously to demand the truce to allow for aid access and medical evacuations. Yet while Moscow supported adopting the resolution, Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia cast doubt on its feasibility.

The ceasefire resolution does not include militants from the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and the Nusra Front.

Baqeri said Iran and Syria would adhere to it. But “parts of the suburbs of Damascus, which are held by the terrorists, are not covered by the ceasefire and clean-up (operations) will continue there,” Tasnim quoted him as saying.

The latest escalation by Damascus and its allies has killed more than 500 people in the enclave over the last week, the Observatory has said. The dead included more than 120 children.

Air strikes and shelling on Sunday killed four people in eastern Ghouta and injured 27 others, it said.

The Syrian government and Russia deny hitting civilians. Moscow and Damascus have said they seek to stop mortar attacks by militants injuring dozens in the capital.

The United Nations says nearly 400,000 people live in eastern Ghouta, a pocket of satellite towns and farms under government siege since 2013. It is the only remaining big rebel bastion near Syria’s capital.

Jaish al-Islam, one of the two major Islamist factions in Ghouta, said fierce battles raged on along several frontlines of Sunday.

Hamza Birqdar, the military spokesman, said the insurgents had thwarted attacks by pro-government forces trying to advance. Rebels and troops have clashed with each others around the enclave in recent weeks.

Russia said it was counting on foreign supporters of anti-government forces in Syria to ensure that the ceasefire was observed, the foreign ministry said on Sunday.

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Why is Israel scattering millions of flies around Gaza?

Every week, 33 million flies are scattered from airplanes onto orchards and agricultural farmland surrounding Gaza as part of a unique Agriculture Ministry project.

The planes take off with millions of male flies at the peak of their sexual maturity and drop them onto fields in an effort to naturally expel the harmful Mediterranean fruit fly, one of the world’s most destructive fruit pests.

The male flies, which are sterile, mate with the female flies infesting the crops, thus preventing the creation of the next generation of fruit flies.
Bio-Bee Biological Systems (YouTube/ gabizbio)

This process is known as the sterile insect technique, an environmentally friendly and chemical free pest control method.

The innovative project is being carried out by Bio-Bee, one of the leading international companies in the field of biologically based pest management, located in Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu in Northern Israel.

As part of the maturing process of the male flies, they undergo sterilization in a radioactive facility. When they are scattered in the air by the planes, they are exposed to the ambient temperature and spring to life ready to mate with their female counterparts, which prefer them to the male fruit flies in the fields.

The flies are scattered over an area of some 35 dunams of fields and orchards near the Gaza border.

According to estimates, the project prevents the use of some 33,000 liters of chemical pesticides that farmers would otherwise have to spray on land near cities and people, in order to carry out the pest control artificially.

According to Bio Bee, the company’s production facility, established in 2005 with support from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was designed to produce about 15 million pupae (male fruit flies) a week, and can now produce five times this amount.

The sterile flies are only part of a series of insects that Bio Bee cultivates, including pollinating bees, predatory insects and parasites that kill pests, for eco-friendly uses to help farmers.


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Voices from the Arab press: Qatar’s hypocrisy exposed yet again

Asharq al-Awsat, London, February 17

Not that we needed more proof, but the Qatari government has once again demonstrated just how hypocritical it is.

Last week, Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah made a state visit to Palestine, during which he visited Jerusalem’s Al-Aksa Mosque. Just minutes after Alawi left the site, the Qatari media went wild and criticized the minister for “normalizing” ties with Israel. Qatari news channels slammed Arab regimes for “cooperating with the enemy” and “abandoning the Palestinian cause,” among other accusations and slurs.

To those who know a thing or two about the Qatari stance on Palestine, this seemed absolutely ridiculous. It is Doha, after all, which has over the past decade engaged with Israeli officials at all levels of government. Yet, concurrently, Qatari spokesmen have blatantly castigated anyone daring to do the same. Qatari television berated the Egyptian mufti, for example, when he visited Jerusalem in 2012.

Meanwhile, Oman – the target of these latest accusations – has maintained an open and transparent line of communication with Israel without making excuses. An Israeli Trade Office even existed in Muscat until the outbreak of the Second Intifada. But Omani officials did not incite against other Arab states for choosing to engage in trade with Tel Aviv. The shame is not in interacting with Israelis, but, rather, in holding others to a different standard.

As for Alawi, the minister repeatedly explained that Arab leaders should not comment on the Palestinian issue from the comfort of their lavish conference rooms back home. Instead, they should visit the occupied Palestinian territories in order to experience the conditions on the ground firsthand. This is exactly what the Omani minister did, and what Qatar so miserably has failed to understand.

– Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Al-Ittihad, UAE, February 16

It seems as though more and more global leaders have been neglecting the fact that the primary victims of terrorism are, in fact, those living in the Arab world. While Arab nations have been at the forefront of the fight against terrorism, they receive very little, if any, credit for their efforts.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, for example, have worked tirelessly over the past few years to expose the true colors of the Iranian regime, which has been spreading its tentacles throughout the region and inciting violence and hatred. They have also exposed Qatar’s efforts to wreak havoc in the Gulf and in Egypt.

It is not surprising that once Islamic State was defeated in Iraq and Syria, terrorists have starting popping up in places like Afghanistan. After sustaining a strategic blow, these terrorist groups are now moving to create crises, albeit on a smaller scale, elsewhere in the Middle East. In doing so, they are attempting to convey the message that they are still alive and well. This is the nature of the fight against terrorism – namely, that it must be fought to completion, or else it will resurface.

Most importantly, so long as the Iranian regime backs these terrorist groups without being held accountable, the threat of terrorism will become even more severe in our region.

World leaders would be wise to nip terrorism in the bud by isolating Iran instead of trying to embrace the mullahs as rational partners who can be coaxed into cooperating with the West in its battle against ISIS. Iran is part of the problem, not the solution.

– Abdullah bin Bajad al-Atibi

Al-Bayan, Dubai, February 14

In the few short weeks since the Israeli-Iranian standoff in Syrian airspace, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to have worked hard to de-escalate mounting tensions on his country’s northern border. While the Iranians denied the allegations that one of their drones entered Israeli airspace, it is clear that such a provocation did, in fact, occur.

Similarly, while the Israelis tried to de-emphasize the magnitude of the downing of one of their jets, the interception of an F-16 by Syrian air defense systems is a deeply alarming development for Israel. The incident has raised the real fear of a direct Israeli-Iranian confrontation, which could drag the entire region into war.

But Netanyahu is realizing that he is alone in this battle. The Russians, who the Israeli premier has been aggressively courting, agreed to provide Israel with freedom of action in Syria’s skies but have done nothing to curb Iran’s hostile activity along Israel’s borders. The Americans, who seemingly have Israel’s back, have taken zero action on the ground to challenge Tehran. In this environment, Netanyahu is fearful of acting alone.

Granted, Iran is currently weakened by its costly adventures in Iraq, Yemen and Syria, which has been altogether destroyed by years of brutal conflict. This could still be the time for Israel to preemptively strike. But without international backing, Israel will not initiate a war against Iran. Netanyahu might publicly intensify his rhetoric against Iran, but behind closed doors he will do whatever he can to keep the situation as calm as possible.

– Muatasam al-Dahlul

Al-Araby al-Jadeed, London, February 17

Jordan’s King Abdullah last week met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and thanked the latter for his country’s efforts to forge a Syrian cease-fire. Yet there is much more to this visit than meets the eye.

The Jordanian Royal House has been growing increasingly anxious in recent weeks over the prospect of the outbreak of a broader regional war that would involve not only local actors but also foreign superpowers, a development that would bring even more destruction and carnage upon the Middle East. Following the downing of an Israeli F-16 by Syria and the heated battle that ensued between Iran and Israel, the potential for such a confrontation has become more probable.

Abdullah and Putin need each other. Jordan has long been the only player in the region capable of talking to all parties involved in the Syrian war. Even today, Washington and Moscow rely on Amman to mediate between them on all matters pertaining to Syria. Russia, in turn, is clearly the only international player capable of influencing Iran, by setting clear restrictions on the mullahs and holding them accountable for their actions.

Accordingly, the Jordanian-Russian summit involved much more than the Syrian truce. Abdullah expressed his concern over Iran’s aggression and offered to work with the Kremlin to calm the situation on the ground. Indeed, both leaders are well aware that any confrontation in Syria will drag the entire region into a cycle of violence and bloodshed.

It seems that, at least for now, the Russian president is heeding Jordan’s advice, with Putin having expressed a willingness to work with Amman to de-escalate tensions. Jordan can also help Russia deal with the Israelis and Palestinians by bringing the two sides to the negotiation table. It may be, then, that Jordan is the last responsible actor in the region and the only one, perhaps, capable of restoring stability.

– Shihab al-Makahla 

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Stealth Russian fighter jets deployed to Syria

Israeli satellite imagery has confirmed the deployment of Russia’s newest Sukhoi Su-57 stealth fighter jets in war-torn Syria.

Images of the two planes, being escorted by Russian SU-30SMs to the Russian Khmemeim air force base in the coastal province of Latakia, were first published on Twitter by local activists on Thursday.

On Saturday satellite operator ImageSat International released a statement saying that their Israeli Eros B satellite spotted the two jets, which are not fully operational.

The deployment of the jets comes two months after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial withdrawal of Russian troops from the war-ravaged country.

The fifth-generation Su-57 stealth fighters are fitted with a sophisticated avionics system and an active airborne phased-array radar which allows the jet to detect air, ground and naval targets at significantly longer distances.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, a total of 12 Su-57s were initially ordered by Moscow; the jets were scheduled to be introduced to Russian forces this year.

Russia has been accused of using Syria as a testing ground for new weaponry, including its Su-34 fighter jet which has since been sold to Algeria. Many other countries, such as Indonesia, India, Uganda and Nigeria are expressing interest in the plane since it became active in the Middle-Eastern country.

Speaking to the Russian news network Sputnik, Vladimir Gutenov, chairman of the Military Industry Committee in the Russian parliament said Friday that while he could not confirm the deployment of the stealth fighters, he “wholeheartedly welcomed” the reports, as the jets “need to be tested in combat conditions – in conditions of [enemy] resistance.”

Furthermore, he said, their presence will no doubt send a message of deterrence, “for aircraft from neighboring states which periodically fly into Syria uninvited.”

As a fifth-generation jet designed for attack roles, it is Russia’s response to the American F-22 Raptor and the F-35.

The F-22 was recently deployed to Syria following an attack against US-backed forces by pro-Syrian troops, which included Russian mercenaries, on February 7. The following week, two F-22s intercepted two Russian aircraft several times when they crossed the “deconfliction line” that is supposed to separate US and Russian aircraft operating over Syria.

According to defense officials who spoke to CNN, a Russian SU-34 jet was also involved in the incident, which lasted “several minutes.”

Israel has nine F-35s and is expecting to receive 50 more over the next few years to form two full squadrons by 2022. It has an extremely low radar signature and is supposedly able to operate undetected deep inside enemy territory, as well as evade advanced missile-defense systems like the Russian-made S-300, which has also been deployed in Syria.

Although the F-35 was declared operational by Israel’s air force in December, the plane is not believed to have been used yet in a combat situation.

Moscow intervened in the Syrian conflict in September 2015. Officials from Israel and Russia meet regularly to discuss the deconfliction mechanism implemented over Syria to coordinate their actions in order avoid accidental clashes in Syrian airspace.

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Syrian Kurds angered by Western silence on Afrin

As the Turkish offensive in Afrin stretches into its second month, the Kurds are disappointed at the lack of Western response.

Since the offensive began in January, villages in Afrin have been shelled and others hit by air strikes. This has led the Assad regime to send its own militia into the province, and to fears that jihadist groups empowered by the battle might exploit it for their own ends.

In January, Turkey began a major military operation directed at attacking what it says are terrorist members of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Afrin in northwest Syria. Ankara claims that the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is aligned with the YPG and that Afrin was used as a base of operations for attacks in Turkey. The YPG and local Kurds dispute that and argue their region was one of peace and quiet amid the ongoing Syrian civil war.

On Friday, Human Rights Watch said that Turkish forces “appear to have failed to take necessary precautions to avoid civilian casualties in three attacks in northwest Syria in late January 2018.”

Turkey’s operation in Syria’s Kurdish-controlled Afrin region has “de facto” begun with cross-border shelling. (Reuters)

In addition, Kurds have put videos online alleging to show Syrian rebel groups that are allied with Turkey shooting civilians. More than 10,000 Syrian rebels have joined the Turkish offensive, and some of these rebel groups have connections to extremists.

A senior Kurdish leader knowledgeable of the situation, who asked not to be named, sent The Jerusalem Post responses to a series of questions that characterize the current issues facing the YPG in Afrin. Before the offensive the YPG hoped that both the US and Russia might act to restrain Turkey. The YPG has been in contact with Russia over the years.

However, Russia has grown closer to Turkey since 2017 and has worked with Turkey at peace conferences in Astana and Sochi. The YPG now thinks that Russia will not be willing to restraint Turkey’s offensive. In eastern Syria the YPG has been a partner with the US-led coalition via the Syrian Democratic Forces, which is an umbrella of anti-ISIS groups. The US told the Kurds that their security obligation ends west of Manbij, so the YPG forces in Afrin knew they were on their own. However, they expected the US would do more to “de-escalate” Turkey’s offensive. So far that has not happened.

Western powers have also been mostly silent on the conflict in Afrin.

The Syrian Kurds are disappointed by the silence of the West toward Turkish attacks, the source says. “They can pressure Turkey but they for some reasons are reluctant.” Kurds have held protests in Europe against the Turkish offensive.

In mid-February, rumors emerged of a deal between the YPG and the Assad regime in which Syrian forces would enter Afrin and reassert their sovereignty there. Since 2012, the regime has mostly been absent from the province. “The Syrian regime is already in Afrin to protect the borders,” the Kurdish leadership source says.

The Kurds are also concerned about a recent merger of jihadist groups in northern Syria. This includes Ahrar al-Sham and Nour al-Din Zinki, which merged on Monday to form Jabhat Tahrir Suriya. “It is an attempt initiated by Turkey, because Turkey wants to use them against the Kurds,” the source says.

The merger came about the same time that pro-regime militias began entering Afrin. These are militias that are aligned not only with Damascus but have also been connected to Iran in its support of the Syrian regime. “I don’t believe Iran can do anything regarding Turkish aggression, because both of them try to destroy Kurdish gains,” the Kurdish source says.

The comments present a complex situation now in Afrin in which the Kurds are caught between the Turkish operation, rebel groups that they fear, and the Syrian regime and Iran.

Abandoned by the West, the US and Russia, the Kurds are seeking accommodation with whoever will help them. This looks likely to mean they will surrender the autonomy they had carved out over the last years. Whether that means the Syrian regime will finally assert itself in Afrin is unclear, because without Russian air power it cannot ward off further Turkish gains.

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Abbas: Medical checks ‘reassuring’

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday said he received “positive and reassuring” results from medical examinations he underwent at hospital in the United States.

The 82-year-old leader underwent routine medical checks on Thursday at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, according to a Palestinian official.

“Praise God all of the results are positive and reassuring,” Abbas said in an interview with official PA television.

The PA president did not provide details about which medical checks he underwent.

Abbas traveled to New York City earlier last week, where he delivered a speech to the United Nations Security Council.

In 2016, doctors performed a cardiac catheterization, a procedure to diagnose and treat heart problems, on Abbas, which they said showed normal results.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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Rescuers say cannot keep up with air strikes battering Syria’s Ghouta

BEIRUT – Rescuers in Syria’s eastern Ghouta said the bombing would not let up long enough for them to count the bodies, in one of the bloodiest air assaults of the seven-year war.

Warplanes pounded the rebel enclave on Saturday, the seventh day in a row of a fierce escalation by Damascus and its allies, an emergency service, a witness and a monitoring group said.

Residents holed up in basements and medical charities decried attacks on a dozen hospitals, as the United Nations pleaded for a truce in Ghouta, the only big rebel bastion near the capital.

There was no immediate comment from the Syrian military.

The Damascus government and Russia, its ally, say they only target militants. They have said they seek to stop rebel mortar attacks on the capital and accused insurgents in Ghouta of holding people as human shields.

A surge of rocket fire, shelling and air strikes has killed nearly 500 people since Sunday night, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The dead included more than 120 children.

The Britain-based monitor said raids hit Douma, Hammouriyeh and other towns there on Saturday, killing 24 people.

First responders rushed to search for survivors after strikes on Kafr Batna, Douma and Harasta, the Civil Defence in eastern Ghouta said. The rescue service, which operates in rebel territory, said it had documented at least 350 deaths in four days earlier this week.

“Maybe there are many more,” said Siraj Mahmoud, a civil defense spokesman in the suburbs. “We weren’t able to count the martyrs yesterday or the day before because the warplanes are touring the skies.”

As the bombs rain down, some hitting emergency centers and vehicles, the rescuers have struggled to pull people from the rubble, Mahmoud said. “But if we have to go out running on our legs and dig with our hands to rescue the people, we will still be here.”

A witness in Douma said he woke up in the early hours on Saturday to the sound of jets bombing nearby. The streets have mostly remained empty.

The United Nations says nearly 400,000 people live in eastern Ghouta, a pocket of satellite towns and farms under government siege since 2013, without enough food or medicine.

The UN Security Council on Friday delayed voting on a draft resolution that demands a 30-day ceasefire across Syria to allow aid access and medical evacuations.

The 15-member council is to vote on the resolution, which Sweden and Kuwait drafted, on Saturday. The delay followed a flurry of last-minute talks on the text after Russia, a veto-holding ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, had proposed new amendments.

Syrian state media said Ghouta factions fired mortars at the Old City of Damascus on Saturday. Insurgent shelling killed one person and injured 60 more a day earlier, it said, and the army pounded militant targets in the suburbs in response.

Several previous ceasefire attempts have quickly unraveled during the multi-sided conflict, which has killed hundreds of thousands and forced 11 million people out of their homes.

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Progress made on saving Prophet Nahum’s tomb in Iraq

“I was struck by the beauty but it looked like it might be too late,” recalls Cheryl Benard.

Along with a team from the Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage, she has been leading efforts to restore and save the tomb of the Prophet Nahum in northern Iraq. Now initial work has been performed to save the historic Jewish site, but challenges lie ahead to restore it.

The tomb of the Prophet Nahum lies in the ancient Christian town of Al-Qosh overlooking Nineveh Plains. Nahum was one of the minor prophets who predicted the destruction of the city of Nineveh located in the outskirts of modern-day Mosul. The tomb is on the border between the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and Mosul.

For centuries the tomb was a major site of Jewish pilgrimage and many Kurdish Jews would come to the tomb and synagogue around it, which is thought to date back more than 800 years. In the 1940s and 1950s Jews of the region moved to Israel, and the town’s Christian residents took care of the tomb as best they could.

“It’s noteworthy, the community there is amazing, it has been a place of sanctuary,” says Benard. “They are proud of their shrine but they were not in a position to maintain it.”

After the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 there was talk of restoring the tomb and the US Army Corp of Engineers even paid a visit.

In 2014, Islamic State conquered the plains below the tomb and threatened the site. Kurdish Peshmerga and the US-led coalition pushed the extremists back. I visited the tomb in 2015 and saw the tremendous state of disrepair. There was a rusted metal awning over the collapsing building to keep rain out. The tomb itself had a green blanket over it and showed signs that some pilgrims still visited.

IN 2017, conservation experts told Benard that it looked worse than it had been a few years before and might not survive another winter. Benard, who holds a PhD in international relations and has worked at the RAND Corporation, hoped the Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage could help save the site. “The structural integrity was imperiled and they explained that the way it was constructed, the columns and arches were connected so that if the outermost ones collapsed, then it could destroy the others.”

Benard and her team rushed to get funding. There happened to be a Czech firm working on preserving the ancient citadel in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region. Called Gema Art Group, the Czechs were experts in construction and preservation and had experience not only in the Kurdistan Region but also in preserving religious buildings. About an-hour-and-a-half drive south of Nahum’s Tomb, the Czech experts were also familiar with Al-Qosh and said they could help stabilize Nahum’s tomb and would do it for the cost of the materials. However, hurdles remained.

In September 2017, the Kurdistan Region held an independence referendum and Baghdad punished the Kurds by ordering the Erbil international airport closed. Suddenly the equipment the Czechs wanted to bring in couldn’t come directly to Erbil but had to go through Baghdad on a local airline. “They were concerned for their equipment but they went ahead with it and you can see the results,” says Benard.

Recent photos of Nahum’s tomb taken by Lisa Miara of the Springs of Hope Foundation, which works in the Kurdistan Region, show that metal stabilizers have been erected on some exterior walls, and inside, large straps, scaffolding and wooden planks have been placed to hold up parts of the structure. In addition, much of the rubble has been cleared.

In doing the work the experts discovered some of the reasons for the accelerating structural collapse.

“For instance on the exterior of the shrine the municipality had raised the level of the sidewalk by a meter and covered up ancient drainage, so the water started going under the shrine and undermining the foundations.”

Temporary fixes have been found for the more severe problems, but Benard says that it has bought the tomb only another two years. “We need to raise the funds for a full restoration.”

She says that restoring the tomb is an important symbol. “It is accepted by all three religions. Every time we went there we saw signs someone had been there for some sort of religious purposes.”

In that sense it is more than just a building, but a representation of history and coexistence. The Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage is now looking for more historic information about the tomb, such as how it was furnished in the 1940s and any artifacts from it that might still be located in Iraq, Israel or elsewhere. For instance, the tomb once had chandeliers, and some items from the site have been located in nearby Zakho on the Kurdish Region’s border with Turkey.

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U.N. Security Council delays vote on Syria ceasefire resolution

The U.N. Security Council on Friday delayed a vote on a demand for a 30-day ceasefire in Syria, where pro-government warplanes have been pounding the last rebel bastion near Damascus in one of the deadliest bombing campaigns of the seven-year civil war.

A draft resolution aimed at ending the carnage in the eastern Ghouta district and elsewhere in Syria will be put up for a vote in the 15-member council at noon (1700 GMT) on Saturday, Kuwait’s U.N. Ambassador Mansour Ayyad Al-Otaibi said.

Al-Otaibi said negotiations were centered on the language of one paragraph that specifically demands a cessation of hostilities for 30 days, possibly starting 72 hours after adoption, to allow aid access and medical evacuations.

“We have not been able to close the gap completely,” Olof Skoog, Sweden’s U.N. ambassador, told reporters. “We’re not going to give up. … I hope that we will adopt something forceful, meaningful, impactful tomorrow.” The delay followed a flurry of last-minute negotiations on the text drafted by Sweden and Kuwait after Russia, a veto-holding ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, proposed new amendments.

“Unbelievable that Russia is stalling a vote on a ceasefire allowing humanitarian access in Syria,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley posted on Twitter.

Previous ceasefires, however, have had a poor record of ending fighting in Syria, where Assad’s forces have gained the upper hand.

The towns and farms of eastern Ghouta have been under government siege since 2013, with shortages of food, water and electricity that worsened last year. Earlier on Friday, the densely populated enclave was bombed for a sixth straight day, witnesses said.

The civilian casualties and devastation there are among the worst in Syria since the government captured rebel-held parts of Aleppo in 2016. At least 462 people have been killed, including at least 99 children, and many hundreds injured, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said on Friday.

Syrian state media reported one person was killed and 58 injured in rebel shelling of sites in Damascus, including a hospital.

Clouding any potential ceasefire is the Syrian government’s frequently used tactic of pushing rebels to surrender their strongholds after long sieges and military offensives.

Insurgents in eastern Ghouta have vowed not to accept such a fate, ruling out an evacuation of fighters, their families and other civilians of the kind that ended rebellions in Aleppo and Homs after heavy bombardment in earlier years.

“We refuse categorically any initiative that includes getting the residents out of their homes and moving them elsewhere,” Ghouta rebel factions wrote in a letter to the Security Council.

Eastern Ghouta has 400,000 people spread over a larger area than other enclaves the government has recaptured. Late on Thursday, government aircraft dropped leaflets urging civilians to depart and hand themselves over to the Syrian army, marking corridors through which they could leave safely.

PRESSURE ON RUSSIA Leading up to the Security Council vote, all eyes have been on Russia amid concerns it would block the resolution or seek to water it down. Moscow has a history of standing in the way of Security Council measures that would harm Assad’s interests.

Germany and France were among the nations to ratchet up the pressure on Russia, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron asking Russian President Vladimir Putin to support the resolution.

Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow wanted guarantees that rebel fighters will not shoot at residential areas in Damascus.

Damascus and Moscow say they only target militants. They have said their main aim is to stop rebel shelling of the capital, and have accused insurgents in Ghouta of holding residents as human shields.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government planes and artillery hit Douma, Zamalka and other towns across the enclave in the early hours of Friday.

There was no immediate comment from the Syrian military.

Medical charities say more than a dozen hospitals were hit, making it nearly impossible to treat the wounded.

A witness in Douma who asked not to be identified said by telephone that the early morning bombing was the most intense so far. Another resident, in the town of Hamouriyeh, said the assault had continued “like the other days.” “Whenever the bombing stops for some moments, the Civil Defence vehicles go out to the targeted places. They work to remove the debris from the road,” Bilal Abu Salah said.

The Civil Defence there said its rescuers rushed to help the wounded after strikes on Hamouriyeh and Saqba. The emergency service, which operates in rebel territory, says it has pulled hundreds of people out from under rubble in recent days.

Hamza Birqdar, the military spokesman for the Jaish al-Islam rebel faction, said it had thwarted nine attacks by pro-government militias trying to storm a front in the southeast of Ghouta.

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