BEIRUT (AP) — Little known to the wider world 18 months ago, the Islamic State extremist group has muscled its way into the international spotlight by carving out a self-declared caliphate in the heart of the Mideast, beheading its opponents and foreign journalists, and attracting radicalized youth as far afield as Paris, London and New York.
An Egyptian court designates the Palestinian group Hamas as a terrorist organisation, accusing it of supporting an insurgency in northern Sinai.
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Iraq’s national museum officially reopens in Baghdad, 12 years after it was looted in the aftermath of the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
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Romania’s coast guard rescued 70 migrants – mostly Syrians and Iraqis – packed on to a small fishing boat that was in danger of sinking as they attempted to make the crossing to Europe in stormy seas on Saturday. The boat, which was crammed with migrants including 20 women and seven children, was helped to safely dock at the port of Constanta, a coast guard spokesman told Reuters. About 500 migrants have arrived by sea to Romania since the middle of 2013, according to coast guard figures, as they flee war, poverty and human rights abuses in the Middle East and Africa. Romanian coast guard spokesman Marius Niculescu said the migrants rescued on Saturday were the first to have attempted to reach Romania by sea this year.
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Faced with a seemingly unending bloody conflict in Syria and the rise of the Islamic State group, is President Bashar al-Assad the lesser of the country's evils and should the West re-engage with him? While world powers such as the United States, France and Britain refuse to have anything to do with a leader the French prime minister described as a "butcher", the question is increasingly being raised within these countries. Staffan de Mistura, the UN envoy for Syria, echoed this feeling this month when he said Assad was "part of the solution" to end a conflict that has killed more than 210,000 people, displaced nearly half the country's population and spilled over into neighbouring nations. "The Assad regime is trying to give the impression of unstoppable momentum towards normalisation of ties," said Shashank Joshi, senior research fellow at Britain's Royal United Services Institute defence and security think-tank.
The reported destruction of historic artefacts in Iraq by Islamic State militants is a war crime, the head of the UN agency for culture says.
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The UK prime minister defends the security services against criticisms they failed to stop the man known as “Jihadi John” from joining Islamic State in Syria.
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Note: I’ll be in an MEI staff retreat all day today. This will be my only post unless I have something this evening.
Yesterday’s shocking videos of ISIS destroying antiquities in the Mosul Museum again underscored the threat war and instability pose to irreplaceable historical and archaeological heritage. Not since the Nazis looted Europe of art treasures during World War II (many of which have never been seen again, despite the efforts of Allied forces as depicted in the film The Monuments Men), have so many historical and archaeological treasures been threatened. The civil wars in Iraq, Syria, and Libya, and the 2011 Revolution in Egypt, all saw cases of looting of museums and archaeological sites, as well as collateral damage from artillery of ancient and medieval monuments. But ISIS is embarked on a campaign to destroy antiquities not as a casualty of war but as a matter of direct policy. Shi‘ite, Christian, and Yazidi religious sites and libraries were first, but now the ancient heritage of ancient Mesopotamia is being targeted: the walls and gate of Nineveh and the —-Mosul Museum.
It’s a good time to remember the work of the late Maurice Chehab, Director of the Lebanese Antiquities Department and Curator of the Museum during the Lebanese Civil War, and a man who saved much of the collections even though the Muesum was quite literally on the front lines: the division between Christian East Beirut and Muslim West Beirut (the Green Line) was the street in front of the museum, and a key but dangerous checkpoint between the two sides was called the Museum Crossing. Lebanese know this story and have honored him; I suspect it’s less well known outside.
Emir (Prince) Maurice Chehab was a scion of the Chehab or Shihab dynasty which once ruled Mount Lebanon; originally Druze, the family today has both Maronite and Sunni branches; the former produced Maurice, as well as former Lebanese President Fouad Chehab.
|The National Museum, Beirut|
Born in 1904, Chehab attended the Jesuit St. Joseph University in Beirut and then did graduate work in France at the Louvre. He became an accomplished archaeologist and specialist on Ancient Phoenicia, and dug at Tyre most famously but also elsewhere; from 1928 onward he held various official posts under the French Mandate and after independence, heading what evolved into the Directorate-General of Antiquities.He taught at the Lebanese University and was designated as the first Curator when Lebanon’s National Museum was being organized in the years after 1928; it opened in 1942.
|Wartime Museum Damage|
He was a distinguished scholar and already past 70 when the Civil War broke out in 1975, when the grim twist of fate brought the war quite literally to the Museum’s doorstep. Eventually, the Museum would not only be the target of artillery but would become a frontline bunker for militiamen and a death trap for anyone else. The card catalog, photographic archive and much else were lost.
But not the prize collections. Early in the war, using a rear entrance as the story goes, Chehab and his wife Olga (with a few other senior people) gathered the smaller objects on display and moved them to basement storage to avoid looting. The area was sealed off with steel-reinforced concrete. The larger objects, including the best-known objects, the stone sarcophagus of Ahiram and the other Phoenician sarcophagi, were also encased in wooden or concrete coverings.
Maurice Chehab retired in 1982 and died in 1994. In 2013 the Museum rededicated one of the key galleries as the Maurice Chehab Hall.
Mosul could have used a Maurice Chehab.
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