Archive for November 16th, 2014

Clashes in rebel-held suburb of Syrian capital

November 15, 2014

BEIRUT (AP) — Rare internal fighting broke out in a rebel stronghold east of the capital Damascus between armed residents and members of a powerful opposition faction, activists said Saturday.

The activists said the fighting broke out Friday and continued Saturday between residents and members of the Islamic Army in the suburb of Douma that is almost surrounded by forces loyal to President Bashar Assad.

A Syria-based activist who goes by the name of Mohammed Orabi said the clashes began when residents attacked the storage units of influential merchants who dominate the local food distribution business to protest high prices.

Orabi and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said guards at the units opened fire, seriously wounding several residents. The Observatory said one of the storage units attacked is controlled by the Justice Charitable Institution that is close to the Islamic Army.

The Islamic Army, a powerful rebel faction which tightly controls Douma, receives funding from some of these merchants, activists say, and is fighting local residents to defend them. “People are angry with the Islamic Army because they back the merchants,” Orabi said via Skype. “People want the prices to go down.”

“The fighting has been ongoing since yesterday,” he added saying that at least 11 people have been wounded. Also Saturday, the Observatory, which relies on a network of activists around the country, said the government air force has conducted 581 airstrikes since the beginning of November, killing at least 115 people including 19 children.

The group said the airstrikes were carried out by warplanes and helicopter gunships. They also wounded 370 people and caused wide damage in provinces including Homs, Hama, Aleppo, Idlib and Daraa. Activists say more than 200,000 people have been killed in Syria since protests against Assad spiraled into violence in 2011.

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Archaeologists dig at ancient site near Syrian war

November 15, 2014

GAZIANTEP, Turkey (AP) — Archaeology and war don’t usually mix, yet that’s been the case for years at Karkemish, an ancient city along the Turkey-Syria border where an excavation team announced its newest finds Saturday just meters (yards) from Islamic State-controlled territory.

Karkemish, dating back more than 5,000 years, is close to the Syrian city of Jarablous, which now flies the black banner of the Islamic extremist group. U.S.-led coalition aircraft flew overhead as Nicolo Marchetti, a professor of archaeology and art history of the Ancient Near East at the University of Bologna. He is the project director at Karkemish, where the Turkish military let archaeologists resume work in 2011 for the first time since its troops occupied the site about 90 years ago.

“Basically we work 20 meters away from the Islamic State-controlled areas,” Marchetti said, standing at the site, which is guarded by more than 500 Turkish soldiers, tanks and artillery. “Still, we have had no problem at all. … We work in a military area. It is very well protected.”

The project, which also includes archaeologists from Gaziantep and Istanbul universities, is doing the most extensive excavations at Karkemish in nearly a century, building on the work of British Museum teams that included T.E. Lawrence, the adventurer known as Lawrence of Arabia.

Marchetti said the plan is to open the site to tourists next spring. A concrete barrier, about four meters high, will be installed at the site. “This will be a total protection for the tourists,” he said.

The strategic city, its importance long known to scholars because of references in ancient texts, was under the sway of Hittites and other imperial rulers and independent kings. However, archaeological investigation there was halted by World War I. It was stopped again by hostilities between Turkish nationalists and French colonizers from Syria who built machine gun nests in its defensive walls. Part of the area was mined in the 1950s, and in later years, creating deadly obstacles to excavation. Demining was completed just a few years ago.

Archaeologists are completing their fourth season unearthing the secrets of Karkemish along the Euphrates. The name Karkemish means “Quay of (the god) Kamis,” a deity at the time in northern Syria. Stone monuments decorated with sculptures, hieroglyphics and more than 20 meter-high city walls attest to the influence of the town.

Among this year’s finds were sculptures in the palace of King Katuwa, who ruled the area around 900 B.C. There were five large orthostats in limestone and basalt, a dark grey to black rock, that portray row of individuals bearing gifts of gazelle. An orthostate is an upright stone or slab that forms part of a structure.

The archaeologists also found a mosaic floor in the palace of Sargon II, who reigned around 700 B.C. over Assyria, an ancient empire mostly located in Mesopotamia. And the team finished exploration of the ruins of the expedition house of Lawrence of Arabia, who worked at Karkemish between 1911 and 1914.

The team began its project in 2011 around the time that the Syrian uprising against President Bashar Assad was escalating. About one-third of the 90-hectare (222-acre) archaeological site lies inside Syria and is therefore off-limits; construction and farming in Jarablous have encroached on what was the outer edge of the ancient city. Most discoveries have been made on the Turkish side.

Riechmann reported from Istanbul.

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