Turkiye earthquake survivors search rubble for their gold savings
The Vural family and many others kept decades-worth of savings at home in the form of gold
Vural and her husband come to the wreckage every day to see if they could locate their valuables
Updated 07 March 2023
OSMANIYE, Turkiye: In the nearly-deserted center of the southern Turkish city of Osmaniye, an elderly couple wait by the ruins of the three-story building where they lived, hoping their life savings might emerge from the debris when it is cleared.
Reyhan Vural, 48, and her 59-year-old husband Metin survived the devastating Feb. 6 quake that killed more than 50,000 people in Turkiye and Syria. But like many who made it out alive, they now struggle with having lost nearly everything.
The Vural family and many others kept decades-worth of savings at home in the form of gold — usually coins or jewelry — a long-standing practice in Turkiye and the Middle East where storing the precious metal at home is often trusted more than depositing cash in a bank.
“Our everything is in the rubble,” Vural said, gesturing at the mound of debris that was her home on a quiet street lined with citrus trees. “We were going to buy a house and the gold for it was in there,” she said.
Vural and her husband come to the wreckage every day to see if they could locate their valuables. “I know where the gold is, so when the diggers come, I’ll ask them to stop for a moment to see if I can get it out.”
Turkiye’s residents have also increasingly favored buying gold to shield themselves from rampant inflation and a steep decline in the value of the Turkish lira in recent years.
“No-one believes in the state. They believe in gold,” said a contractor clearing rubble and who declined to give his name.
Authorities are swiftly clearing the rubble and starting to focus on rebuilding for the millions who lost their homes.
But the disaster zone is still dotted with people who wait by the ruins and sift through the wreckage to find their valuables.
Hatice Yigit, 57, survived six days under the rubble of an apartment block in Antakya before being rescued by British emergency workers. After recovering, she went back to the site, hoping to retrieve some 50,000 Turkish lira ($2,600), mostly in gold, saved up for her daughter’s marriage.
“It’s all in there. Even my dreams are in there,” she said.
Her daughter’s wedding may need to be postponed for some years if she doesn’t find it, she said.
Gold is meant to give a financial head start to newly-weds.
Others fear they will never find their savings.
Fadi Kabbani, originally from Idlib, Syria, lost his wife and seven-year-old son when the building he lived in collapsed.
He now lives in a makeshift tent, but said the $1,000 worth of gold he lost, while not a large sum, would have secured better lodging and food for him and his surviving son.
It took four days to be able to retrieve his wife’s body, he said. “We didn’t think about anything else... now, we are sure there is nothing left.”
Syrians lose life-saving care as Turkiye halts medical visits
Seriously ill Syrians in the country’s last rebel bastion of Idlib used to be able to access life-saving care across the border
Updated 11 sec ago
HALZOUN, Syria: Huddled inside a tent in rebel-held northwestern Syria, Umm Khaled says she fears her baby will die unless she gets specialist treatment in neighboring Turkiye for a congenital heart defect. Seriously ill Syrians in the country’s last rebel bastion of Idlib used to be able to access life-saving care across the border. But the main crossing there for medical visits slammed shut after a deadly earthquake ravaged southern Turkiye on February 6, prompting Ankara to prioritize its domestic needs. Born just a week before the disaster, baby Islam needs urgent cardiac surgery, unavailable in Syria’s war-scarred Idlib region where the health care system fell into further disarray after the quake. “I watch my daughter suffer and I can’t do anything about it,” said Umm Khaled, showing only her eyes and hands beneath her black niqab. The 27-year-old said her baby was losing weight and her condition worsening. Islam often struggles to breathe, and a doctor has warned that repeated such episodes, which put further strain on her heart, could be deadly without an operation or treatment. But only cancer patients have been allowed to cross into Turkiye after months of waiting — and only since Monday. “When she cries, she turns blue and her heart beats very fast,” Umm Khaled said, as her three other young children sat on the ground in their tent in the village of Halzoun. “I hope they’ll open the crossing soon,” she said, baby Islam squirming in her lap. Doctors in Idlib refer most heart and cancer patients to Turkiye, where they can receive free treatment under an agreement between local authorities and Ankara. Burns victims, premature babies and people requiring complicated surgery have also been allowed to cross. But after the quake ravaged health facilities on the Turkish side of the border, Ankara halted medical visits through the Bab Al-Hawa crossing — the sole access point for patients from Idlib. The border has remained open for United Nations humanitarian aid, goods and even Syrians visiting relatives in the area. Firas Al-Ali, diagnosed with a benign tumor near his brain in 2017, has undergone surgery and tests in Turkiye, where he usually gets medication and treatment every three months. He had been waiting for treatment on February 23, but then the earthquake struck. “Due to the delay, I’m getting pain in my eyes and my head,” the 35-year-old blacksmith said. “My treatment is unavailable here and if it is, it is expensive and I can’t afford it.” Rebel-held Idlib is home to around three million people, many of them displaced from other parts of Syria and dependent on humanitarian aid. Government-held areas of Syria are off limits to civilians from Idlib. The Syrian side of the Bab Al-Hawa crossing into Turkiye is controlled by the country’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham. The Syrian American Medical Society runs the only center in Idlib for cancer patients. Paediatric oncologist Abdel Razzaq Bakur said the clinic lacked diagnostic equipment and medications, and had been overwhelmed by “numerous patients who urgently need to be admitted in Turkiye.” The children’s ward alone has admitted 30 patients left untreated by the border closure, he said. Around 40 more “haven’t been getting chemotherapy and their condition is very bad — some risk dying.” Some families had tried to get medicine from Turkiye or Lebanon, but prices were often prohibitive, he added. “Most people can’t cover their basic daily needs, so how are they supposed to secure chemotherapy doses?” he asked. Yusuf Hajj Yusuf, 60, was scheduled to have chemotherapy in Turkiye the day the quake struck and said a recent scan showed his lung cancer had worsened. He had asked relatives to help pay for treatment in Idlib but “no longer had the strength” to raise funds. “I was very happy about the reopening of the crossing,” he said. “After the earthquake, we cancer patients have suffered a lot. We have all been waiting to return to the Turkish hospitals.”
To restore reefs dying in warming seas, UAE turns to coral nurseries
Updated 09 June 2023
ABU DHABI: On a boat off the coast of an island near Abu Dhabi, marine scientist Hamad Al-Jailani feels the corals, picked from the reef nursery and packed in a box of seawater, and studies them carefully, making sure they haven’t lost their color.
The corals were once bleached. Now they’re big, healthy and ready to be moved back to their original reefs in the hope they’ll thrive once more.
“We try to grow them from very small fragments up to — now some of them have reached — the size of my fist,” Al-Jailani said, who’s part of the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi’s coral restoration program.
The nursery gives corals the ideal conditions to recover: clear waters with strong currents and the right amount of sunlight. Al-Jailani periodically checks the corals’ growth, removes any potentially harmful seaweed and seagrass, and even lets the fish feed off the corals to clean them, until they’re healthy enough to be relocated.
The Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, or EAD, has been rehabilitating and restoring corals since 2021, when reefs off the United Arab Emirates’ coast faced their second bleaching event in just five years. EAD’s project is one of many initiatives — both public and private — across the country to protect the reefs and the marine life that depend on them in a nation that has come under fire for its large-scale developments and polluting industries that cause harm to underwater ecosystems. There’s been some progress, but experts remain concerned for the future of the reefs in a warming world.
Coral bleaching occurs when sea temperatures rise and sun glares flush out algae that give the corals their color, turning them white. Corals can survive bleaching events, but can’t effectively support marine life, threatening the populations that depend on them.
The UAE lost up to 70 percent of their corals, especially around Abu Dhabi, in 2017 when water temperatures reached 37 degrees Celsius (99 degrees Fahrenheit), according to EAD. But Al-Jailani said 40-50 percent of corals survived the second bleaching event in 2021.
Although the bleaching events “did wipe out a good portion of our corals,” he said, “it did also prove that the corals that we have are actually resilient ... these corals can actually withstand these kind of conditions.”
Bleaching events are happening more frequently around the world as waters warm due to human-made climate change, caused by the burning of oil, coal and gas that emits heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. Other coral reef systems around the world have suffered mass bleaching events, most notably Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
How to limit global warming and its effects will be discussed at length at the United Nations climate conference, which will be held in the UAE capital later this year.
The UAE is one of the world’s largest oil producers and has some of the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions globally. The country has pledged to have net zero carbon emissions by 2050, which means all carbon dioxide emissions are either slashed or canceled out somehow, but the goal has been met with skepticism from analysts.
But bleaching due to warming weather is not the only threat to coral reefs around the gulf. High oil tanker traffic, fossil-fuel related activities, offshore installations, and the exploitation of marine resources are all putting marine life under intense stress, according to the UN Environment Programme, causing them to degrade.
Environmentalists have also long criticized the UAE, and Dubai in particular, for its large-scale buildings and huge coastal developments.
The building of the Palm Jebel Ali, which began more than a decade ago and has been on hold since 2008, caused an outcry among conservationists after it reportedly destroyed about 8 square kilometers (5 square miles) of reef.
“More than 90 million cubic meters (23.8 billion gallons) of sediments were dredged and dropped, more or less on top of one of the remaining reefs near Dubai,” said John Henrik Stahl, the dean of the College of Marine Sciences at Khorfakkan University in Sharjah, UAE.
The project was meant to be similar to the Palm Jumeirah — a collection of small, artificial islands off the coast of Dubai in the shape of a palm tree.
Still, environmental projects persist across the coastline and throughout the emirates.
Development company URB has announced it wants to grow 1 billion artificial corals over a 200-square-kilometer area (124 square miles) and 100 million mangrove trees on an 80-kilometer (50-mile) strip of beaches in Dubai by 2040.
Still in the research and development phase, the project hopes to create 3D technology to print materials that can host algae, much like corals.
Members of Dubai’s diving community are also encouraging coral protection efforts.
Diving program director Amr Anwar is in the process of creating a certified coral restoration course that teaches divers how to collect and re-plant corals that have fallen after being knocked off by divers’ fins or a boat’s anchor.
“I don’t want people to see broken corals and just leave them like that,” said Anwar. “Through the training we give people, they would be able to take these broken corals that they find and plant them elsewhere, and then see them grow and watch their progress.”
But experts say that unless the threat of overheating seas caused by climate change is addressed, coral bleaching events will continue to occur, damaging reefs worldwide.
Countries have pledged to limit the global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times, after which scientists say the effects of warming on the planet could be much worse, and some even potentially irreversible. But analysts say most nations — including the UAE — are still way off that target.
“You have to make sure that the cause for the degradation of the coral reefs in the first place is no longer a threat,” said Stahl, the Khorfakkan University scientist. “Otherwise the restoration effort may be for nothing.”
Sudan declares UN envoy Volker Perthes ‘persona non grata’
Updated 09 June 2023
KHARTOUM: The Sudanese government has declared United Nations envoy Volker Perthes “persona non grata,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced.
“The Government of the Republic of Sudan has notified the Secretary-General of the United Nations that it has declared Mr. Volker Perthes ... persona non grata as of today,” the ministry said in a statement on Thursday, just weeks after army chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan accused Perthes of stoking the country’s conflict and requested his removal.
Perthes was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Thursday for a series of diplomatic talks, according to the UN mission’s Twitter feed.
Since late last year, Perthes and the UN mission he heads in war-torn Sudan have been targeted by military and Islamist-backed protests denouncing perceived foreign interference.
In a letter to the UN last month, Sudan’s de facto leader Burhan blamed the envoy for exacerbating fighting between the army and the paramilitaries, accused him of not respecting “national sovereignty” and demanded he be replaced.
UN chief Antonio Guterres and members of the UN Security Council have stood by Perthes.
But last week, the Security Council voted to extend the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS)’s mandate for just six months.
Created in June 2020 to support Sudan’s democratic transition after the fall of Omar Al-Bashir a year earlier, UNITAMS had previously been renewed annually for a year.
After Saudi visit, Blinken raises Palestinian state with Israel PM
Blinken spoke by telephone with Netanyahu on “deepening Israel’s integration into the Middle East through normalization with countries in the region”
Saudi FM earlier said any normalization with Israel will have limited benefits " without finding a pathway to peace for the Palestinian people"
Updated 09 June 2023
WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to undermine prospects for a Palestinian state, after talks in Saudi Arabia which linked normalization to peace efforts.
Blinken spoke by telephone with Netanyahu to discuss “deepening Israel’s integration into the Middle East through normalization with countries in the region,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.
Blinken “discussed the need to uphold the commitments made at regional meetings in Aqaba and Sharm el-Sheikh to avoid measures that undermine the prospects for a two-state solution,” Miller said, referring to talks earlier this year in Jordan and Egypt that brought Israeli, Palestinian and US officials together.
Blinken in a speech this week before the leading US pro-Israel group said that he would work to win recognition of the Jewish state by Saudi Arabia — a major goal for Israel due to the kingdom’s size and role as guardian of Islam’s two holiest sites.
Speaking alongside Blinken on Thursday, Prince Faisal bin Farhan said that normalization with Israel “is in the interest of the region” and would “bring significant benefits to all.”
“But without finding a pathway to peace for the Palestinian people, without addressing that challenge, any normalization will have limited benefits,” he said.
“Therefore, I think we should continue to focus on finding a pathway toward a two-state solution, on finding a pathway toward giving the Palestinians dignity and justice.”
Netanyahu during his last stint in power won normalization from the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Bahrain in what both he and the then US administration of Donald Trump saw as crowning achievements.
The longest-serving Israeli premier has returned to power leading the country’s most right-wing government ever with supporters adamantly opposed to a Palestinian state.
RAMALLAH: Controversial judicial reforms proposed by Israeli’s far-right coalition government pose a threat to Palestinians, an independent commission of inquiry set up by the UN said on Thursday.
The proposals, which would curb some Supreme Court powers and increase government control of judicial appointments, have set off unprecedented protests in Israel.
In a 56-page report, the commission said proposed legislation could increase taxation of pro-Palestinian NGOs and limit their ability to document Israeli soldiers’ activities in the occupied West Bank.
Other proposals by members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s extreme religious-nationalist coalition would strip Israel’s Arab minority of citizenship and enable their deportation if they commit pro-Palestinian violence, the report said.
“The proposed changes would dismantle fundamental features of the separation of powers and of the checks and balances essential in democratic political systems,” it said.
“Legal experts have warned that they risk weakening human rights protections, especially for the most vulnerable and disfavored communities, including Palestinian citizens.”
The commission, set up by the UN’s Human Rights Council in 2021, found Israel had increasingly stifled rights advocates “through harassment, threats, arrests, interrogations, arbitrary detention, torture and inhuman and degrading treatment.”
The commission, which conducted about 130 interviews, also found that Palestinian authorities in the occupied West Bank and Gaza had targeted Palestinian rights activists.
“The arrest and detention of Palestinian activists by both Israeli and Palestinian authorities was noted as a particularly harsh reality for many Palestinian activists,” the report said.