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India court allows survey of historic mosque to see if it stands on temple



Right-wing Hindu groups allege Gyanvapi Mosque in the northern Varanasi city was built on top of a Hindu temple during the Mughal rule.An aerial view shows Gyanvapi Mosque, left, and Kashi Vishwanath Temple on the banks of the Ganges river in Varanasi, India [File: Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP]

An Indian court has ruled that officials can conduct a scientific survey to determine if a 17th-century mosque in the country’s north was built over a Hindu temple.

The Gyanvapi Mosque in Varanasi, a district Prime Minister Narendra Modi represents in parliament, is one of several mosques in Uttar Pradesh state that right-wing Hindu groups claim was built on top of Hindu temples allegedly demolished during the peak of Mughal rule from the 16th to the 18th century.

The dispute over the mosque – adjacent to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple, a prominent place of worship for India’s 80 percent majority Hindu community – has intensified in recent years. Muslims make up nearly 14 percent of the country’s 1.4 billion people.

Vishnu Shankar Jain, a lawyer representing the Hindu petitioners, said the Allahabad High Court in Uttar Pradesh on Thursday allowed the state-run Archaeological Survey of India to survey the structure without causing any damage to it.

Gyanvapi Mosque

“Scientific survey is necessary in the interest of justice,” Live Law, an online portal for Indian legal news, cited Chief Justice Pritinker Diwaker as saying.

The Muslim petitioners objected to the survey, saying it would damage the structure.

Khalid Rasheed, a Muslim petitioner, said the mosque committee has the option to appeal Thursday’s decision in India’s Supreme Court.

“We are hopeful that justice will be done as the mosque is 600 years old and Muslims have been praying there for long,” Rasheed told reporters.

Gyanvapi Mosque
A worker stands on a temple rooftop adjacent to the Gyanvapi Mosque [File: Pawan Kumar/Reuters]
The Archeological Survey of India began the survey last month, but the project was halted by the Supreme Court to give time for an appeal.

Earlier, five Hindu women sought permission from a court to perform Hindu rituals in one part of the mosque, saying a Hindu temple once stood on the site.

A controversy arose over a structure claimed by the Hindu petitioners as a shivling, a symbol of the Hindu god Shiva. Muslims said it was part of a fountain in the wuzukhana, a small water reservoir used by Muslim devotees to perform ritual ablutions before offering prayers.

The Muslim body, the Anjuman Intezamia Masjid Committee, which manages the Gyanvapi Mosque, contends that the survey is contrary to provisions of a 1991 Indian law protecting places of worship.

The law states that the nature of all places of worship, except Ram Janmabhoomi–Babri Mosque in Ayodhya, shall be maintained as they were on August 15, 1947, and that it is illegal to convert such sites.

A 16th-century Babri Masjid mosque in Ayodhya, a temple town in Uttar Pradesh, was demolished in 1992 by Hindu hardliners who claimed it stood on the exact spot where Lord Ram was born.

The demolition sparked massive religious riots across India that led to the death of some 2,000 people.

In 2019, India’s Supreme Court ruled in favour of a Hindu temple on the disputed religious ground and ordered that alternative land be given to Muslims to build a mosque.

Hindu nationalists had been demanding a temple on the site in Ayodhya since the 1940s. A Hindu trust, under the patronage of Modi’s right-wing government, is building a temple there now.

In 2020, Modi himself laid the foundation stone of the temple, which is likely to be inaugurated ahead of national elections due by May next year.



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Iran says unblocked South Korea funds to be used for ‘non-sanctioned goods’




  • Washington said there would be restrictions on what Iran could do with any funds unfrozen

LONDON: Iran’s central bank chief said on Saturday that all of Iran’s frozen funds in South Korea had been unblocked and would be used for “non-sanctioned goods.”
Mohammad Reza Farzin’s post on social media appeared to confirm comments a day earlier by Washington, which said there would be restrictions on what Iran could do with any funds unfrozen under an emerging deal that has led to the release of five Americans from prison to house arrest in Tehran.
White House spokesperson John Kirby said Iran could only access the funds “to buy food, medicine, medical equipment that would not have a dual military use.” An estimated $6 billion in Iranian assets have been held in South Korea.
The five Americans will be allowed to leave Iran once the funds are unfrozen, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.
Farzin wrote in a post on messaging platform X, formerly known as Twitter, that the funds would be transferred to six Iranian banks in Qatar.
“Congratulations to the foreign exchange diplomacy team for successfully releasing seized foreign currency resources,” he said in the post.
He added that the costs of converting the funds from South Korea’s won currency to euros would be accepted by the “third country” where the money would be deposited to buy “non-sanctioned goods.”

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How ‘a monumental catastrophe’ was averted with offloading of Safer near Yemen’s Red Sea coast




  • Decaying oil-storage vessel moored in the Red Sea posed massive environmental and humanitarian threat

  • First phase of operation succeeds in removing most of the 1.14 million barrels of crude oil held by the Safer

DUBAI: The news that the threat of a massive oil spill in the Red Sea has receded with the transfer of more than a million barrels of oil from the FSO Safer, a dilapidated storage vessel lying off the coast of Yemen, has come as a huge relief for nearby countries, UN officials and environmentalists.

After months of on-site preparatory work, the $143 million operation got underway at the end of July, with the goal of defusing what UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had described as “the world’s largest ticking time bomb.”

A team of workers hired by the United Nations started transferring oil from the rusting super-tanker FSO Safer off war-torn Yemen on July 25. (AFP/File)

An international team siphoned the crude out of the Safer to another vessel — the Nautica, later renamed the Yemen — bought by the UN for the salvage mission.

In a statement on Friday, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated the Kingdom’s appreciation for the efforts of Guterres and the UN working team who “worked to harness all efforts to end the problem of the Safer tanker.”

Saudi Arabia was one of the first countries to provide financial grants for the offloading operation through donations via the King Salman Center for Relief and Humanitarian Aid.

The Saudi foreign ministry also thanked the Command of the Coalition to Support Legitimacy in Yemen for “facilitating the operational plan process until the … completion of the unloading of the floating tanker Safer.”


“Thank God, it is over,” Walid Khadduri, an oil analyst and former editor-in-chief of the Middle East Economic Survey, told Arab News from Beirut. “The UN working team prevented a veritable catastrophe from happening. It could have been a major one.”

The Red Sea and its “distinct ecosystem,” with coral reefs and seagrass beds, would have been most at risk, he said.

“The environment would have been the hardest hit by an oil spill, followed by maritime traffic.”

Anticipating the possibility of a spill in the course of the oil transfer operation, the United Nations traineda local team in Hodeidah on the use of floating booms (temporary barrier) to protect the coast. (AFP/file photo)

Now that most of the oil has been transferred from the Safer, saving Red Sea ecosystems and fishing communities up and down the Yemen coast from potential disaster, a UN-purchased vessel will tow the Safer to a “green scrapping yard.”

Achim Steiner, administrator of the UN’s Development Program, described the offloading operation as “one of the most significant preventative actions taken in recent years.”

He said: “Some of you have written and called the FSO Safer a ticking time bomb. I think it is fair to say that as of today, that ticking is no longer an immediate threat.”

The Safer, a 47-year-old floating oil storage vessel, was moored in the Red Sea, north of the Yemeni ports of Hodeidah and Ras Issa — a strategic area controlled by the Houthi militia.

It was built in the 1970s and later sold to the Yemeni government to hold up to 3 million barrels of crude oil pumped from the fields of Marib, a province in eastern Yemen.

The vessel was 1,181 feet long with 34 storage tanks, and held more than 1.14 million barrels of oil before the UN operation began — four times as much as was spilled in the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster off Alaska, one of the world’s worst ecological crises, according to the UN.

Minimal maintenance since Yemen’s civil war began in 2015 left the Safer vulnerable to corrosion and increased the risk of leaks.

The removal of oil was the culmination of almost two years of political groundwork, fundraising and project development.

Donations to fund the offloading operation from 23 UN member states, the EU, the private sector and public groups have exceeded $121 million, but a further $20 million is needed to scrap the Safer and remove any remaining ecological threats to the Red Sea.

Hasan Selim Ozertem, a security and energy analyst, described the UN operation as a “critical intervention to prevent an ecological disaster,” adding that “it is not possible to totally eliminate the risk of oil spill as witnessed from so many disasters in the past.”

In this photo supplied by international dredging and heavylift company Boskalis, workers are shown pumping oil from from the FSO Safer to a replacement tanker in July 2023. (Boskalis photo)

He told Arab News from Ankara that it is important to note that the international community, represented by the UNDP, supported the oil removal operation.

“This experience holds lessons on how to avert such situations in the future. Considering how complicated the Yemen situation is, no mission should be treated as impossible.

“Be it the Syrian war or the Israel-Palestine conflict, every crisis requires political will on the part of regional actors to reach a solution. The UN by itself does not have the necessary carrots and sticks to impose solutions; it can only facilitate the process.”


FSO Safer was moored off coast of Yemen with minimal maintenance.

Vessel held 4x as much oil as was spilled in 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster.

Saudi Arabia provided financial grants for the offloading operation.

In comments to the media on Friday, David Gressly, the UN’s resident coordinator in Yemen, highlighted that the two captains involved in the operation on board the Safer were invited to travel from Aden to take part in the project, which he described as “an indication of the importance of going beyond the day-to-day concerns that exist in the civil war that continues here.”

He said the success of the salvage mission, at a regional level, has lifted the spirits of the Yemeni people, and expressed hope that the ability of adversaries to work together to address one critical problem might lay the groundwork for broader cooperation and peace negotiations.

In this photo supplied by international dredging and heavylift company Boskalis, workers are shown pumping oil from from the FSO Safer to a replacement tanker in July 2023. (Boskalis photo)

The success of the offloading operation serves as a testament to the power of diplomacy, patience and transparency in efforts to foster collaboration in even the most challenging of situations, he added.

“It’s a good Friday,” Gressly told Arab News. “We feel good about what we’ve seen today. It’s nice to see something advancing as it did here. In terms of the larger political dialogue, of course, it won’t contribute directly to that. But I have to say (it) does create a bit of hope for people that there is a way forward.

“And, then, while the parties are adversaries, they did find a way to set aside those differences long enough to deal with this particular problem. And that can create, I think, conditions more conducive for negotiations.

“And also, I think the fact that the (memorandum of understanding) that was signed back in March last year, that so far has been adhered to by Sana’a. is a good sign that you can have a successful negotiation in this context.

“That does not guarantee it but it does create a sense of hope that may not have been there before. And I hope those that are in a position to do so can take advantage of whatever momentum this is creating to go forth.”

Likewise, UNDP’s Steiner said that in the broader context of the humanitarian situation in Yemen, the success of the Safer operation offers “a glimpse of hope,” especially amid wider shifts in the dynamics of the region and within Yemen itself.

Staff of a vessel in charge of unloading oil from the decaying vessel FSO Safer are pictured off the coast of Ras Issa, Yemen. (AFP)

“UNDP, which works in virtually all parts of the country, has estimated that Yemen over the last eight years has lost some 20 to 22 years of its development,” he told Arab News. “So, I think the context within which this operation had to be mounted was quite unique.

“But I think one can at least speculate that the ability of two sides to this conflict — who lack trust in each other, who are even very skeptical toward international community — to find it within themselves, and ultimately with a very strong sense of support from the public, that this was an operation that was of benefit to every citizen, and therefore required exceptional and unusual measures.

“And the story of how we got here might actually give some hope to those who believe that there is more that can be achieved in the next few months.”

After the remaining oil on board the FSO Safer is removed, the decaying vessel will be towed to a scrapyard, an operation expected to be completed in up to 10 days. (AFP photo/File)

Although the bulk of the oil has been removed from the Safer, the offloading operation is not yet complete; there is a small amount of viscous oil remains on board and the vessel could still break apart.

“The residual oil on the Safer is mixed with sediment and can’t be pumped out at this point,” Gressly said. “It will be removed during the final cleaning.”

The second and final phase of the operation, stripping and cleaning the Safer and preparing it for towing and scrapping, is expected to take between a week and 10 days to complete.

— Ephrem Kossaify contributed to the report from New York City

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Lebanon army arrests 134 Europe-bound migrants




BEIRUT: The Lebanese army arrested 134 migrants near the northern border with Syria on Saturday after foiling their attempt to take a boat to Europe, it said in a statement.
The group of would-be migrants — made up of 130 Syrians and four Lebanese nationals — were taken into custody in the coastal town of Sheikh Zennad, in Akkar province, the army statement said.
The army said it also detained “the mastermind behind the operation” who was a Lebanese national.
In a separate statement, Lebanese armed forces said they had arrested 150 Syrians who had crossed into Lebanon illegally in another part of Akkar province.


Migrants departing from Lebanon head for Europe, with one of the main destinations being Cyprus, only 175 km away.

Lebanon is mired in what the World Bank describes as one of the worst economic crises in modern history.
The economic collapse has turned the country into a launchpad for migrants, with its own citizens joining Syrian and Palestinian refugees clamoring to leave by taking dangerous sea routes.
Authorities say Lebanon currently hosts around two million Syrians, while more than 800,000 are registered with the UN — the highest number of refugees per capita in the world.
Migrants departing from Lebanon head for Europe, with one of the main destinations being Cyprus, only 175 km away.
In September 2022, at least 100 bodies were recovered after a boat carrying migrants from Lebanon sank off Syria’s coast.
In December 2022, two migrants died and around 200 were rescued when their boat sank off Lebanon’s northern coast.
The arrests were reported as French authorities said six people died after a migrant boat trying to cross the Channel from France capsized early on Saturday, with another two people possibly missing.
Nearly 60 migrants were saved by French and UK rescue boats and brought to French or British shores and search and rescue operations were ongoing, the maritime prefecture said.
Local mayor Franck Dhersin said a vast rescue operation had been launched around 6 a.m. (0400 GMT) as dozens of migrant boats tried to make the crossing at the same time.
“Several of the boats were facing serious difficulties,” he told Reuters. “Near (the coastal town of) Sangatte they unfortunately found dead bodies.”
The Channel between France and Britain is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes and currents are strong, making the crossing on small boats dangerous.
People smugglers typically overload rickety dinghies, leaving them barely afloat and at risk of being lashed by the waves as they try to reach British shores.
Anne Thorel, a volunteer who was on one of the rescue boats, described the migrants’ frantic efforts to bail water out of their sinking vessel using their shoes.
“There were too many of them on the (migrant) boat,” she told Reuters by phone as she returned to the shore.
Britain’s coast guard said it sent a lifeboat from Dover to assist with the Channel rescue, along with a coast guard rescue team and ambulance staff.
A UK Border Force vessel and two lifeboats helped rescue all those on board another small boat in the Channel in a separate incident on Saturday, the British coast guard added.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government has spent the week making announcements about its efforts to reduce the number of asylum seekers, hoping to win support from voters as the ruling Conservative Party trails in opinion polls.
UK government figures show that the number of migrant Channel crossings so far this year stands at nearly 16,000.
In November 2021, 27 migrants died when their dinghy deflated as they tried to cross the Channel.
The accident was the worst accident on record involving migrants in the narrow seaway separating the two countries.
There are more frequent, deadlier disasters in the Mediterranean, where a charity rescue ship rescued 76 migrants on an overloaded wooden boat on Saturday. More than 22,000 people have died or gone missing in its waters since 2014, according to the International Organization for Migration.=

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