European archaeologists back in Iraq after years of war – Arab News

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NASIRIYAH, Iraq: After war and insurgency kept them away from Iraq for decades, European archaeologists are making an enthusiastic return in search of millennia-old cultural treasures.
“Come and see!” shouted an overjoyed French researcher recently at a desert dig in Larsa, southern Iraq, where the team had unearthed a 4,000-year-old cuneiform inscription.
“When you find inscriptions like that, in situ, it’s moving,” said Dominique Charpin, professor of Mesopotamian civilization at the College de France in Paris.
The inscription in Sumerian was engraved on a brick fired in the 19th century B.C.
“To the god Shamash, his king Sin-iddinam, king of Larsa, king of Sumer and Akkad,” Charpin translated with ease.
Behind him, a dozen other European and Iraqi archaeologists kept at work in a cordoned-off area where they were digging.
They brushed off bricks and removed earth to clear what appeared to be the pier of a bridge spanning an urban canal of Larsa, which was the capital of Mesopotamia just before Babylon, at the start of the second millennium B.C.
“Larsa is one of the largest sites in Iraq; it covers more than 200 hectares,” said Regis Vallet, researcher at France’s National Center for Scientific Research, heading the Franco-Iraqi mission.
The team of 20 people has made “major discoveries,” he said, including the residence of a ruler identified by about 60 cuneiform tablets that have been transferred to the national museum in Baghdad.
Vallet said Larsa is like an archaeological playground and a “paradise” for exploring ancient Mesopotamia, which hosted through the ages the empire of Akkad, the Babylonians, Alexander the Great, the Christians, the Persians and Islamic rulers.
However, the modern history of Iraq — with its succession of conflicts, especially since the 2003 US-led invasion and its bloody aftermath — has kept foreign researchers at bay.
Only since Baghdad declared victory in territorial battles against the Daesh group in 2017 has Iraq “largely stabilized and it has become possible again” to visit, said Vallet.
“The French came back in 2019 and the British a little earlier,” he said. “The Italians came back as early as 2011.”
In late 2021, said Vallet, 10 foreign missions were at work in the Dhi Qar province, where Larsa is located.
Iraq’s Council of Antiquities and Heritage director Laith Majid Hussein said he is delighted to play host, and is happy that his country is back on the map for foreign expeditions.
“This benefits us scientifically,” he told AFP in Baghdad, adding that he welcomes the “opportunity to train our staff after such a long interruption.”
Near Najaf in central Iraq, Ibrahim Salman of the German Institute of Archaeology is focused on the site of the city of Al-Hira.
Germany had previously carried out excavations here that ground to a halt with the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
Equipped with a geomagnetic measuring device, Salman’s team has been at work in the one-time Christian city that had its heyday under the Lakhmids, a pre-Islamic tribal dynasty of the 5th and 6th centuries.
“Some clues lead us to believe that a church may have been located here,” he explained.
He pointed to traces on the ground left by moisture which is retained by buried structures and rises to the surface.
“The moistened earth on a strip several meters long leads us to conclude that under the feet of the archaeologist are probably the walls of an ancient church,” he said.
Al-Hira is far less ancient than other sites, but it is part of the diverse history of the country that serves as a reminder, according to Salman, that “Iraq, or Mesopotamia, is the cradle of civilizations. It is as simple as that!”
KHARTOUM: A senior Sudanese police officer was killed Thursday during protests by thousands against a military coup, the police media office said, reporting the first security forces fatality since the takeover.
Ali Bareema Hamad “fell martyr while doing his duties and securing protests” in the capital Khartoum, the police statement said on Facebook.
 
RIYADH: More than 360 Houthis have been killed in various operations in Yemen, the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen said on Thursday.
In oil-rich Marib province, more than 220 Houthi fighters were killed and 18 military vehicles destroyed in operations over the last 24 hours.
The coalition also carried out strikes in Al-Bayda province which resulted in the deaths of over 120 Houthis and the destruction of 13 military vehicles.
On Wednesday, the UN envoy to Yemen expressed concern at the Houthi militia’s militarization of ports in Hodeidah.
“The accusations of the militarization of the ports of Hodeidah are worrying and the threats of attacking them are equally disturbing given that these ports are a lifeline for many Yemenis,” Hans Grundberg said at a UN Security Council meeting.
Several council members condemned the Houthi seizure of UAE-flagged ship Rwabee during the meeting and the UAE’s permanent representative to the UN called it a “dangerous escalation.”
“We condemn, in the strongest terms, the Houthi act of piracy against the civilian cargo vessel Rwabee off the port of Hodeidah,” Lana Nusseibeh said.
“This is a dangerous escalation against the safety of maritime navigation in the Red Sea. It requires the adoption of a firm position by the Security Council,” she added.
CAIRO: The Gaza Strip needs “much more” than the $500 million that Cairo allocated to it in May 2021 for reconstruction, said Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
During his participation in the World Youth Forum in the Egyptian city of Sharm El-Sheikh, he expressed hope that reconstruction projects in which Egyptian companies are involved would be completed “as soon as possible for the sake of our brothers in the Gaza Strip.”
El-Sisi urged companies operating there to employ Palestinians rather than foreign workers. He also called on donor countries to provide “greater support” to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.
CAIRO: A political consensus and a “roadmap” toward elections are necessary to resolve the crisis in Sudan, said Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
“Sudan represents Egypt’s national security,” he said during his participation at the World Youth Forum in the Egyptian city of Sharm El-Sheikh.
“I say to the brothers in Sudan: Agree to dialogue and agree to continue moving forward. We support dialogue and consensus between the existing forces … We have a consistent policy of non-interference in the affairs of states.”
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Cairo “supports the current UN action in support of achieving stability in Sudan, by activating dialogue between the Sudanese parties, which would resolve and overcome the current crisis, and calls on all parties to work on choosing a new transitional prime minister, and forming a government as soon as possible.”
GAZA: Palestinian Zeyad Abu Odah watched with a smile as his four-story house, destroyed in an Israeli air strike in last May’s fierce fighting, was slowly being rebuilt in Gaza’s Beach refugee camp.
He is one of the lucky few. Only 50 of 1,650 homes wrecked in an 11-day war between Gaza militants and Israel are being restored, leading to frustration among Palestinians at the slow pace of reconstruction eight months after the conflict ended.
“When things started to move, we began to feel better. In six to seven months we will return to our house with our children and families,” Abu Odah, 60, said, as construction workers put the finishing touches to the first floor.
Abu Odah’s extended family of 50 members has been living in four separate homes since the conflict.
Gaza officials estimate that it will take $479 million to rebuild homes and infrastructure damaged in the war. Qatar and Egypt have each pledged $500 million for reconstruction in the Gaza Strip, which is run by the Hamas militant group.
Naji Sarhan, Gaza’s deputy housing minister, said only $100 million had been made available so far and that, with Qatari funds, reconstruction had begun on 50 of 1,650 destroyed homes. Sarhan cited Israeli pressures, but did not elaborate.
“It is clear the Israeli occupation is exerting political pressure and making obstacles,” he told Reuters.
COGAT, the Israeli Defense Ministry’s liaison office to the Palestinians, did not respond to a request for comment.
Israel, which controls the main commercial crossing into Gaza, has said reconstruction would be linked to achieving a deal for the handover of two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers believed to be held by Hamas.
But in an apparent bid to lower tensions with the group, it recently allowed more construction materials into Gaza to rebuild homes destroyed or damaged during last year’s war.
Sarhan also pointed at the lack of broader Arab and international support for the reconstruction process beyond Qatar, Egypt and the United Nations.
“Reconstruction process is slow and doesn’t meet our ambitions,” Sarhan said.
Israeli air strikes partly damaged another 59,000 homes during the conflict, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run government. Some homes in Israel were damaged by rockets launched by the Islamist Hamas and by fellow militant groups.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency UNRWA, which aids two thirds of Gaza’s two million people, has also helped repair the damaged houses of refugees.
Egyptian bulldozers and engineers have begun work in the northern Gaza Strip at the first of three large housing projects funded by Cairo.
Sarhan said the Egyptian “cities” would house nearly 4,000 families. There was no time frame for when construction would finish.
The cities would serve low-income people as well as hardship cases and some of those who had lost their homes in the conflict, he added.

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