Lake Tiberias reveals mosque built by Prophet companions

One of the world’s oldest mosques has been uncovered by a team of archaeologists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on the shores of Israel’s Sea of Galilee. (Facebook: Tiberias/ Tiberiades Excavations)
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Updated 24 January 2021

Lake Tiberias reveals mosque built by Prophet companions

  • Religious site ‘could have been built by commander of Muslim army,’ expert says

LONDON: One of the world’s oldest mosques has been uncovered by a team of archaeologists on the shores of Israel’s Sea of Galilee.

The remains of the mosque were found beneath the ruins of a building originally identified as from the Byzantine period. It might have been constructed as early as A.D. 635 by a companion of the Prophet Muhammad who was a commander of the Muslim armies that conquered the Levant in the seventh century.

The mosque is located on the outskirts of the city of Tiberias in Israel’s north, which overlooks the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. The discovery was announced last week in an academic conference after 11 years of excavation by a team led by Katia Cytryn-Silverman of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The site was previously excavated in the 1950s when a colonnaded structure was found and identified as a marketplace from the late Byzantine period. However, later excavations revealed pottery shards and coins from the early Islamic period. Together with the multilevel structure of the building’s foundations, archaeologists have pointed to the site having Islamic origins.

Archaeologists had earlier identified the remains of an eighth-century mosque, but further digs revealed that the structure was in fact a century older.

Historians already know the location of older mosques, but they lie hidden beneath existing mosques where archaeologists cannot access them. The oldest known remains of a mosque were uncovered east of Baghdad in the ancient city of Wasit, and have been dated to A.D. 703.

However, the Israeli archaeologist team believes that the mosque uncovered in Tiberias was built decades earlier, and perhaps founded by Shurahbil ibn Hasana, a commander of the army that conquered the area.

“We can’t say for certain that this was Shurahbil’s,” said Dr. Cytryn-Silverman.

“But we do have historic sources that say he established a mosque in Tiberias when he conquered it in 635.”


Iran stops snap nuclear inspections, state-run daily urges caution

Updated 23 February 2021

Iran stops snap nuclear inspections, state-run daily urges caution

  • Iran’s envoy to International Atomic Energy Agency says implementation of Additional Protocol ended at midnight on Monday
  • The agreement allowed the IAEA to carry out short-notice inspections

DUBAI: An Iranian government newspaper warned on Tuesday that overly radical actions in the nuclear wrangling with the West may lead to the country’s isolation after Tehran ended snap inspections by United Nations inspectors.
Iran’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Kazem Gharibabadi, said it had ended implementation of the so-called Additional Protocol at midnight (2030 GMT) on Monday. The agreement allowed the IAEA to carry out short-notice inspections.
The state-run daily newspaper Iran criticized hard-line lawmakers who protested on Monday at Tehran’s decision to permit “necessary” monitoring by UN inspectors for up to three months, saying this broke a law passed by parliament in an apparent effort to pressure the United States to lift sanctions.
The law requires ending snap inspections by the UN nuclear watchdog from Tuesday if sanctions are not lifted.
“Those who say Iran must take swift tough action on the nuclear accord should say what guarantee there is that Iran will not be left alone as in the past ... and will this end anywhere other than helping build a consensus against Iran?” the daily Iran said.
To create room for diplomacy, the UN watchdog IAEA on Sunday reached a deal with Iran to cushion the blow of Tehran’s reduced cooperation and refusal to permit short-notice inspections.
On Monday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran might enrich uranium up to 60 percent purity if the country needed it, while repeating a denial of any Iranian intent to seek nuclear weapons.
Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six powers, which it has been breaching since the United States withdrew in 2018, caps the fissile purity to which Tehran can refine uranium at 3.67 percent, well under the 20 percent achieved before the agreement and far below the 90 percent suitable for a nuclear weapon.
A US State Department spokesman said Khamenei’s comments “sounds like a threat” but reiterated US willingness to engage in talks with Iran about returning to the 2015 nuclear deal.
Washington said last week it was ready to talk to Iran about both nations returning to the accord abandoned by former US President Donald Trump.
Tehran said last week it was studying a European Union proposal for an informal meeting between current members of the deal and the United States, but has yet to respond to it.
Iran, which has resumed enriching to 20 percent in an apparent bid to heap pressure on the United States, has been at loggerheads with Washington over which side should take the initial step to revive the accord.
Iranian leaders insist Washington must end its punitive campaign first to restore the deal, while Washington says Tehran must first return to full compliance.


UAE Mars mission project manager heralds age of ‘space collaboration’

Updated 20 February 2021

UAE Mars mission project manager heralds age of ‘space collaboration’

  • First interplanetary mission by an Arab nation will share data with global scientific community

DUBAI: After the last of three spacecrafts made contact with Mars this month, the world’s newest space-faring nation is heralding a new age of “space collaboration.”

The United Arab Emirates made history Feb. 9 when it became the fifth country to successfully enter the Martian orbit with its Hope probe, the first interplanetary mission by an Arab nation. 

Scenes on the ground in Dubai were jubilant when Omran Sharaf, project manager of the Emirates Mars Mission, announced the orbit insertion was successful. Pictures of the team’s engineers were then projected onto the side of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower.

It was an incredible feat considering the UAE Space Agency is less than seven years old and the average age of an Emirates Mars Mission team member is just 27.

It comes at a time of heightened interest in the Red Planet. China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft celebrated its own successful orbit insertion less than 24 hours later, on Feb. 10. NASA's Perseverance Rover landed on the surface of Mars on Thursday.

A week after the UAE’s successful orbit insertion, Sharaf told Arab News that he is “still sleep-deprived.” His team worked through the weekend to release its first image of the Red Planet five days after the Hope probe started its orbit. 

Sharaf's team worked through the weekend to release its first image of the Red Planet five days after the Hope probe started its orbit. (Supplied)

Some of Mars’s most defining features are visible in the picture, including the planet’s north pole and Olympus Mons, the largest volcano in the solar system.

“What you see in this image is what you would see with your naked eye, if you were at a height of 25,000 kilometers above the Martian surface,” Sharaf said.

But the best images of the planet are yet to come, he said, as this particular photo was taken with the probe’s uncalibrated camera.

Sharaf said the team received the image 28 hours after orbit insertion and admitted he felt “relieved” when he saw it.

“Looking at it, as a person, it made me really appreciate the science that is going to be coming out of this mission,” he said. “Having an image helps you know that you actually did it.”

BIOGRAPHY

Omran Sharaf Emirates Mars Mission (Hope Probe) Project Director Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre Omran is Project Director of the Emirates Mars Mission (EMM) at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC). He and his team are responsible for developing, launching, and operating the Hope Probe, the spacecraft of the mission.

Omran has worked on the project from its initial conception and developed all the necessary capabilities and partnerships at MBRSC, effectively transitioning the organization from one that focused on earth observation satellites to one that develops interplanetary exploration missions.

An experienced electronics and systems engineer, who trained in the US and Korea, Omran was responsible for developing and implementing the Command Data Handling Subsystem (CDHS) for the DubaiSat-1 high resolution LEO imaging satellite. He also headed the development of the CDH subsystem and payload electronics subsystem for DubaiSat-2, along with being a systems engineer of that project.

Prior to EMM, Omran was Director of the Programs Management Department at MBRSC, which was responsible for defining new strategic programs, the project management office and the product and mission assurance functionalities of the center.

Omran earned his bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Virginia, USA, in 2005, and his Master's in Science and Technology Policy from the Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), South Korea, in 2013.

Sharaf said more pictures will be released soon as the first collection of data collected from the mission will be released to the global scientific community in September.

And this is the sentiment he is most adamant about: The UAE will provide open access to all.

Sharaf said the hallmarks of the mission are “transparency” and “peace,” as well as looking to a post-oil future. 

“Maybe superpowers around the world look at it differently than us,” he said. “For us, there are very clear priorities. Our economy is a priority. The reason why we are going into space is to build capacity, capability and a set of skills among the Emirati youth to serve our future.

“And there are also certain national challenges linked to the environment that really require advanced technologies to be developed and customized for the UAE. To do that we need to have people with a certain set of skills and we need to have an industry with very high standards.”

Collaboration is also important. The UAE worked with three US universities on the mission, which launched from the Japanese island of Tanegashima on a rocket made by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. 

“We do not look at it as a space race,” Sharaf said. “We do not even use that terminology within our space community. 

“The fundamental element to this was transparency. And this is how you actually ensure that other nations and people understand the main goals behind our mission. Basically, the UAE space program is a civilian program. It is a peaceful one. And this is what we want to emphasize.”

During the mission’s final approach to Mars, Sharaf’s anxious face was beamed around the world on a live stream from mission control at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center in Dubai. 

The UAE faced a 50 percent chance of successful orbit insertion and Sharaf did not sleep the night before.

“I do not think I was worried, because I was stressed,” he said. “Did I accept the fact that this might not work? I did at that point. And so whatever the consequences were, for me, it was fine.”

At just after 8 p.m., Sharaf calmly announced the successful insertion to “the people of the United Arab Emirates, to Arab and Muslim nations” and then repeated the phrase “All thanks to Allah” three times.

The Hope team is now calibrating the probe’s instruments and preparing for its transition from a capture orbit into a science orbit in six weeks’ time. The science orbit is elliptical, ranging between 20,000 to 43,000 kilometers, with one complete orbit taking 55 hours. This will allow the probe to complete the first planet-wide picture of Mars’ atmospheric dynamics and weather during both day and night.

During the science orbit, the probe will study how energy moves through the Martian atmosphere.

“This data will lead to new information that will serve humanity and will help us better understand what happened to the Red Planet,” Sharaf said. “It will help us better understand our own climate and the changes that are happening around us.”


Heavy snowfall, gales as winter storm hits Middle East

Updated 18 February 2021

Heavy snowfall, gales as winter storm hits Middle East

  • It snowed for the first time in years in Marjayoun in southern Lebanon, and in Bayda in northeast Libya

BEIRUT: Snow blanketed parts of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Israel on Wednesday, covering areas it has not reached in years, disrupting traffic and postponing vaccination campaigns against COVID-19 and even exams at some universities.
It snowed for the first time in years in Marjayoun in southern Lebanon, and in Bayda in northeast Libya.
Gale force winds knocked out electricity in vast parts of Lebanon, forcing many Lebanese, already used to power cuts, to rely on generators for longer hours. Rescuers pulled four motorists out of their snow-covered cars, the National News Agency said.
The first snow this winter in the Syrian capital, Damascus, did not prevent the Premier League soccer tournament from going ahead, as Army Sports Club and Al-Karamah faced off despite the snow that covered the pitch, the Syrian Al-Watan daily reported .
In the mountains of Syria’s Sweida province, snow was as high as 15 cm (6 inches), according to the official state news agency SANA. Roads in some provinces were blocked. In the central province of Hama, bulldozers shoveled snow to open roads while vehicles skidded on ice, causing traffic disruption.
The University of Damascus called off mid-term exams scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday in all its branches around Syria because of the extreme weather conditions. The country’s ports remained open. Later, local authorities in the provinces of Sweida, Quneitra, Daraa and Tartous suspend school on Thursday due to the storm and heavy snowfall.
In the opposition-held northwestern Syria, civil defense teams have been building dirt mounds since Tuesday around camps for the displaced to prevent rain from flooding the crowded areas. Nearly 3 million displaced people live in northwestern Syria, mostly in tents and temporary shelters. Heavy rainfall last month damaged over 190 displacement sites, destroying and damaging over 10,000 tents.
In neighboring Lebanon, Storm Joyce hit late Tuesday with gale force winds registering between 85 km/h (52 miles/h) and 100 km/h (62 miles/h). The storm is expected to get stronger Thursday.
Breaking a warm spell, the storm brought heavy rainfall, a sharp drop in temperatures and the heaviest snow fall in Lebanon this year. Snow is expected to cover areas of altitudes as low as 400 meters, according to the meteorological department. Nearly a dozen roads in eastern and northern Lebanon were closed to traffic because of the snow. A beachside club and restaurant were submerged in water as waves nearly 4 meters (13 feet) high slammed onto the shore.
The Israeli Meteorological Service forecast heavy thunderstorms and cold temperatures across much of the country, with snowfall at higher altitudes expected later on Wednesday, including in Jerusalem. On Wednesday night, Israeli police closed the main road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem due to snow.
Heavy snowfall covered the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights near the border with Syria.
In Jordan, the COVID-19 vaccination drive was suspended due to severe weather conditions. Schools and universities also put off classes. Jordan’s Prime Minister Bishr Al-Khasawneh announced that Thursday will be an official holiday for both the public and private sector due to the snow storm.
Osama Al-Tarifi, director of the operating room of the Arabia Weather site, said snow has reached 20 cm (8 inches) in the mountains of Ajloun in northern Jordan, where snowfall has been non-stop since Tuesday night. Heavy snow is expected in the capital, Amman, on Wednesday.
Wind exceeded 100 km/hour (62 miles/h) in some areas in Jordan.
In Libya, snow blanketed the country’s northeast mountains as snowfall continued since Tuesday, covering forests and roads in some areas in the North African country.
Residents of the Jabal Al-Akhdar area in the far northeast part of Libya took their children out for fun, some making snowmen and others starting snowball fights.
“I was surprised, actually, by the number of families who came here to take pictures to remember the snow,” said Ali Al-Shairi, an amateur photographer from the eastern city of Bayda, which is known for recurrent snow in Libya but has not seen any for a couple of years.
In neighboring Egypt, heavy rain and windy weather prevailed on Wednesday and was expected to last into Thursday, the country’s meteorological agency said. Authorities in South Sinai province, which includes touristic hubs, canceled touristic activities, including safaris and cruises to weather the storm.


Yemeni government calls for international support to protect heritage sites from Houthis

Updated 15 February 2021

Yemeni government calls for international support to protect heritage sites from Houthis

The Yemeni government called on international organizations to protect archaeological sites from the Houthi militia, state news agency Saba reported on Saturday.

The Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism strongly condemned the demolishing of the historic Al-Nahrain Mosque, which is more than 1,300-years-old, by the Houthi militia in Sanaa.

The ministry said in a statement that it considered the demolition a “crime” and a “blatant assault” on the Yemeni civilization and its Islamic heritage.

The Al-Nahrain Mosque is considered a national historical asset as it was built in the first century of the Islamic calendar and is one of the archaeological landmarks that needed to be preserved and protected, the statement said.

The ministry called on international organizations, including UNESCO, to monitor all archaeological sites and areas under the Houthi militia’s control, and work to protect them from any distortion to protect Yemen’s cultural heritage.

The ministry vowed to take necessary measures in pursuing the perpetrators in accordance with all local and international legislation concerned with antiquities and culture.

Meanwhile, Council of Arab Interior Ministers condemned the Houthi militia’s repeated attacks, including the targeting of civilian areas such as airports.

Over the past week, the Iran-backed Houthi militia targeting Abha International Airport in Saudi Arabia, which in one incident, caused a civilian airplane to catch fire.


Archaeological dig in Egypt discovers world’s oldest brewery

Updated 15 February 2021

Archaeological dig in Egypt discovers world’s oldest brewery

  • Excavations revealed storage containers and other artifacts inside the workshops, indicating that the townspeople were making beer and bread at this site

CAIRO: The joint Egyptian-American archaeological mission, headed by Matthew Adams of New York University and Princeton University’s Deborah Yashar, has uncovered what is believed to be the oldest high-production brewery in the world.
The mission is working in North Abydos in Sohag governorate, 450 km south of Cairo.
“The factory is likely to date back to the era of King Narmer. It consists of eight large sectors with an area of 20 meters in length,” Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt said, which would make it about 5,000 years old.
“They were used as units for the production of beer, as each sector contains about 40 pottery ponds arranged in two rows to heat the mixture of grains and water,” he said.
“Studies have proven that the factory produced about 22,400 liters of beer at a time. It was probably built in this place specifically to supply the royal rituals that were taking place inside the funerary facilities of the first kings of Egypt. These establishments show evidence of beer being used in sacrificial rituals,” Matthew Adams said.
After 16 years of excavation in the city of Tal Edfu, north of the city of Aswan and 600 km south of Cairo, archaeologists and researchers from the University of Chicago discovered a complex of buildings indicating the oldest stages of life in the city, and evidence of food production.

BACKGROUND

• After 16 years of excavation in the city of Tal Edfu, north of the city of Aswan and 600 km south of Cairo, archaeologists and researchers from the University of Chicago discovered a complex of buildings indicating the oldest stages of life in the city, and evidence of food production.

• The complex consists of two large mud-brick buildings surrounded by vast open squares and workshops. These buildings date back to about 2400 BC, the period known as the Old Kingdom in Pharaonic history, during which the pyramids were constructed.

The complex consists of two large mud-brick buildings surrounded by vast open squares and workshops. These buildings date back to about 2400 BC, the period known as the Old Kingdom in Pharaonic history, during which the pyramids were constructed.
Excavations revealed storage containers and other artifacts inside the workshops, indicating that the townspeople were making beer and bread at this site.
An Egyptian archaeological mission has discovered a part of a wine press and storage units, in addition to a large wall of mud bricks and a residential building adjacent to a mill in the area of Terogi, in Beheira governorate, 34 km east of Alexandria.
Ayman Ashmawy, head of the Egyptian Antiquities Sector, said that the building, in which small regular and irregular blocks of limestone were used in the foundations amid the mud bricks, may have been used to control the temperature for preserving wine.