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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!”
AL-MUKALLA: The Houthis on Saturday criticized the UN Security Council for demanding they release a hijacked UAE-flagged ship.
Militia official Hussein Al-Azzi Houthi rejected the UN’s calls to free the ship and repeated claims it had been carrying weapons for the Arab coalition.
“The ship was also not loaded with dates or children’s toys, but was loaded with weapons,” he tweeted, accusing the UN of “misleading public opinion.”
The Houthis seized the vessel, which was carrying medical supplies from the remote Yemeni island of Socotra to the Saudi port of Jazan, on Jan. 3. 
Their defiance came as government troops, backed by coalition air support, on Friday and Saturday took control of new mountainous locations south and west of the city of Marib.
Yemen’s Defense Ministry and local media reports said there were intensified attacks on pockets of Houthis fighting in Hareb district, south of Marib.
Troops also pushed almost 10 km into Houthi-controlled territory in Juba district, mainly in the Al-Balaq Al-Sharqi mountain range.
The Houthis have suffered massive setbacks since the start of this year, when troops took control of three districts in the oil-rich province of Shabwa and later advanced into Hareb district.
The coalition on Saturday urged Yemenis not to drive through main roads linking Marib and Al-Bayda with Hareb, Bayhan and Ouselan districts, declaring them “areas of operations” amid fighting on the ground and coalition airstrikes.
The coalition also announced killing at least 345 Houthis and destroying 37 militia vehicles in 60 airstrikes during the past 24 hours in the provinces of Al-Bayda and Marib.
Yemeni Landmine Records, which documents victims of mines or unexploded ordnances, said Friday that Houthi landmines had killed 38 government fighters and civilians since earlier this month in Shabwa and Marib provinces.
Landmine specialist Musa Abdullah Al-Harethi was killed on Saturday while defusing a device planted by the Houthis in Ouselan district. Two children were killed in a blast caused by a landmine in Al-Khoka, south of Hodeidah province, the organization said.
CAIRO: A tomb from the Greco-Roman era containing around 20 mummies has been discovered in Egypt’s western Aswan region. 
A joint Egyptian-Italian archaeological mission working in the vicinity of the Aga Khan Mausoleum made the find.
Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said the tomb had two parts. The first was above the ground and the second was carved into the rock.
Abdel Moneim Saeed, director general of Aswan and Nubia Antiquities and head of the archaeological mission’s Egyptian side, said the first part was a rectangular sandstone and mudbrick building. The tomb’s entrance was surrounded by stone blocks covered with a mudbrick vault.
The second part was carved out of rock and the entrance led to a rectangular courtyard in which four burial chambers were carved, he added. These had 20 mummies, most of which were in good condition.
Preliminary studies have indicated that this mass grave includes the bodies from more than one family.
The head of the mission, professor of Egyptology at the University of Milan Patricia Piacentini, said the mission found many archaeological artifacts inside the tomb, which dated back to the Greco-Roman era, including offering tables, stone panels with hieroglyphic texts, and a copper necklace decorated with Greek writing and the name Nicostratus.
They also found a number of coffins in good condition, some of which were made from sandstone.
TUNIS: A Tunisian court has sentenced to death nine militants accused of having beheaded a soldier in 2016, a murder claimed by the Daesh group, media reported Saturday.
Tunisia hands death sentences to convicts mainly in trials related to national security under a 2015 terror law, despite a moratorium on capital punishment in place since 1991.
Friday’s verdict concerns the murder of army corporal Said Ghozlani in November 2016, in the Mount Mghila area near the border with Algeria.
He was found beheaded in his home in that region, which is considered a hideout for militants.
The Daesh group claimed responsibility for killing the soldier.
The Tunis court on Friday also sentenced to jail 15 people accused of involvement in the murder, with terms ranging from 32 to 44 years in prison.
Tunisia saw a surge in radical Islamist activity following the ouster of autocratic president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in the 2011 revolution.
Dozens of members of the security forces have since been killed in militant attacks.
The security situation has greatly improved in recent years, but Tunisian forces continue to track down suspected militants in the Mount Mghila and Mount Chaami regions.
In 2020, President Kais Saied called into question the moratorium on the death penalty, after the murder of a 29-year-old woman sparked outrage in the country.
Her body had been found in a ditch near the highway linking the capital Tunis to the residential suburb of Marsa.
A man was arrested and confessed to strangling her and stealing her phone.
At the time, Saied said: “Anyone who kills a person for no reason deserves the death penalty,” prompting outrage from rights groups.
LONDON: The husband of British-Iranian prisoner Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has said she has more hope for her eventual release after a British Council employee was freed after three years of jail in Iran under spying charges.
The British Council announced that Aras Amiri successfully appealed her case at the Supreme Court on Wednesday. She has since returned to the UK.
Amiri was an artistic affairs officer in Iran, but was arrested in Tehran in 2018 while visiting family. 
The British Council said it has always strongly denied the allegations that she was a spy, adding: “We are very proud of her work in our London office as an arts programme officer supporting a greater understanding and appreciation of Iranian culture in the UK.”
Richard Ratcliffe told The Independent that news of Amiri’s release has given his wife hope. “Nazanin is probably a bit angry about still being stuck there, but she is more positive than I am,” he said.
“I fundamentally am quite bleak at this point. She sees Aras’ release as good news at face value and her coming out as a good thing.”
Amiri had shared a cell with Zaghari-Ratcliffe, whose husband described how he and his wife had their spirits raised by a phone call from British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
“She got a phone call from Liz Truss on her birthday on Boxing Day which was nice for her. Liz said: ‘You are a priority, we are working on things’,” said Ratcliffe, who has raised the couple’s daughter since his wife was imprisoned in April 2016.
He added that despite the rise in hope, the Foreign Office is still “quite guarded” with him, which he said is an indication that the situation remains “sensitive.” 
Ratcliffe went on hunger strike in London before the Christmas period to campaign for his wife’s case.
Despite the remaining concerns, he said Amiri’s release is “definitely a good sign,” adding: “For Nazanin, it is a bit bittersweet. Whenever anyone gets out, it is a reminder she is still there. Of course, there isn’t a queue in hostage cases, but whenever you see someone else get out who was arrested after you, you are wondering why it isn’t you.”
DUBAI: Yemen’s army, alongside the Giants Brigade and popular resistance, managed Friday to liberate strategic locations in the northwestern front of Marib, according to state-owned SABA news. 
A military source said they defeated the Iran-supported Houthi militia on various fighting fronts in the south and west of Marib Governorate, with direct air support from the coalition. 
Dozens of Houthi militia members were killed or wounded, while a number of them were arrested, he said. 
With the advances made on the ground, the coalition’s fighter planes launched a series of raids targeting militia fortifications, gatherings and reinforcements in separate locations south of Marib, inflicting heavy losses.

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