August 02, 2019

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NEED TO KNOW

SYRIA

From the Rubble

The Syrian Civil War was hard on Aleppo.

“In the Old City’s labyrinthine markets, where government troops and rebel groups fought it out, shuttered shops are riddled with bullet-holes,” reported the New Humanitarian, a news agency that reports on crises. “The words ‘мин нет’ [no mines] spray-painted on buildings signal where Russian de-miners have cleared up explosives. Rubble is piled up along the main roads, where it has been swept aside by clearers working for the United Nations.”

Rebel forces abandoned the northwestern city, once Syria’s largest, to government troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in December 2016 after a four-year siege.

Now Aleppo is rebuilding, Al Jazeera reported, as thousands of residents return from refugee camps that provided them with safe havens during the war.

Many know they won’t see their homes again. More than 52,000 Aleppo residents of different faiths – the city’s Christian community was the largest in the mostly Muslim country – created a Facebook group to remember their prayers in the mosques, their visits to street markets and bathhouses, and other old ways of life in the city before the war, the Guardian wrote.

The think tank Stratfor explained how Assad defeated his enemies but still does not control large parts of the Middle Eastern country. The Americans, Iranians, Russians, Turks and jihadists continue to vie for influence or control over swaths of the country, too.

Writing in Foreign Policy magazine, security expert Charles Lister was bold. He argued that Assad is presiding over a chaotic, failed state.

Assad deserves little sympathy. Lately, he’s been withholding aid from formerly rebel-held areas where people are starving and injured, while steering the aid to communities that remained loyal to him, Reuters reported. Eastern Aleppo, for example, where rebels made their last stand, is a pile of rubble that has yet to be rebuilt.

Still, new parks in Raqqa, a northern city that US-backed rebels seized from the Islamic State in 2017, represent how humanity can bounce back. Officials made sure to use bright colors in a mural in one of the parks.

“Under IS rule, only one color was prevalent and allowed, and that was black,” Ahed al-Hendi, head of the Syrian Foundation for Sustainable Development, told Voice of America. “The colors we use now while repairing these parks represent diversity and tolerance.”

Good for Raqqa. For others, the war won’t be fully over until construction cranes rise on the east side of Aleppo.

WANT TO KNOW

SOUTH KOREA

Bad Blood

Japan is poised to remove South Korea from its list of favored trade partners as relations between the two Asian powers have sunk to what might be their lowest point since they normalized ties in 1965.

Seoul urged Tokyo to allow more time for diplomacy on Thursday, even as it warned that removal from Japan’s so-called white list of countries that enjoy minimum trade restrictions could have far-reaching repercussions and possibly hurt the two countries’ bilateral security cooperation, Reuters reported.

Talks between the countries’ foreign ministers on the sidelines of a Southeast Asian conference in Bangkok on Thursday failed to ease tensions that have mounted since a South Korean court ruled last year that Japanese firms had to pay compensation to South Koreans compelled to work in Japanese factories during the 1910 to 1945 occupation.

Last month, Japan tightened restrictions on the export of high-tech materials to South Korea, citing security reasons, and now Seoul is considering withdrawing from a hard-won intelligence-sharing pact called the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) if Japan drops it from the white list.

MOZAMBIQUE

Hug It Out

Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi enveloped Ossufo Momade, the leader of the country’s main opposition party Renamo, in a bear hug Thursday after they inked an agreement to end the decades of strife that have followed the country’s 15-year civil war.

“We are living in a moment of hope. This is the moment of our reconciliation,” President Filipe Nyusi told a cheering crowd in Gorongosa National Park, which was formerly a rebel stronghold and hotspot in the fighting, the Associated Press reported.

Nyusi and Momade agreed to a permanent cease-fire following years of negotiations to end sporadic fighting that has waxed and waned since the civil war ended in 1992.

More than 5,200 rebel fighters are now disarming, with a national election on the horizon. The hope is that burying the hatchet will allow the economy to grow and bring a measure of prosperity to a country where nearly three-quarters of the population survives on less than $2 a day.

There have been similar efforts in the past, but this time an amnesty for rebel fighters and other key measures were implemented before the actual signing – spurring optimism that the peace may hold.

PARAGUAY

Bruised, Not Broken

Paraguay’s President Mario Abdo thanked lawmakers for allowing a resolution of a scandal related to a hydropower deal with Brazil “that does not break the democratic process” on Thursday after the legislators backed down from a threat to impeach him.

Facing the threat of impeachment and reeling from the resignations of his foreign minister and three other officials, Abdo scrapped the deal and apologized for the way the scandal had been handled, Reuters reported.

“Whoever has to be accountable for his misconduct will be accountable,” Abdo said in a message to the nation.

Under a deal that was signed in May but not revealed until last week, the two countries had agreed to establish a schedule for the purchase of energy from the Itaipu dam until 2022. But Paraguayan lawmakers were outraged by the terms, which some experts said would cost one of South America’s poorest countries $200 million, Agence France-Presse reported.

The two countries are partners in the hydropower project – which ranks as the world’s largest – but Paraguay’s economy depends upon it.

DISCOVERIES

The Unknown Collector

When they move into a new house, homeowners might come across hidden or lost objects left by a previous owner.

The new occupants might then try to reach out to the old owner, but what happens when the latter was a Holocaust victim with no known surviving kin?

That is the dilemma that historians are facing after a family found a trove of antique coins in a house in a former Jewish ghetto in Hungary, Agence France-Presse reported.

In the town of Keszthely, the home’s current owners contacted local museum authorities after discovering the one-of-a-kind coin collection buried in their cellar in February.

Nearly half of the coins dated from the Roman era, while the rest originated from other periods and continents, such as Africa, South America, and even Tsarist- and Soviet-era Russia.

“It’s sad that someone put together such a worldwide collection but tragically could not continue,” said archaeologist Ferenc Redo.

Museum officials said that the hoard might have belonged to a previous Jewish homeowner who hid the treasure before being deported to a Nazi death camp in 1944.

Officials hope to learn more about the Holocaust in Hungary from this treasure trove.

“The discovery shows how there are still many unanswered questions about the Holocaust in Hungary,” said Redo.