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Restoration of Ancient Palmyra Bas-Reliefs Begins in Syria’s Damascus

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Experts from the National Museum of Damascus have begun restoration of ancient Palmyra bas-reliefs, partially destroyed by the militants of the Islamic State terrorist organization (IS, outlawed in Russia), the museum’s director Oman Saad told reporters.

“These parts were delivered from Palmyra after the first liberation, when the Syrian army freed the city and transported all these parts to the museum. As you can see, all these sculptures have been destroyed by IS militants — before Palmyra was seized by the IS, we came there and took some of the sculptures to safety, however, some remained there. When the IS came, they began to destroy the remaining sculptures, firstly desecrating the faces, and then the rest of the sculptures. <…> Now, a team of experts has arrived in Damascus to begin restoration works,” Saad said.

The specialists look at old photographs to restore the destroyed artworks, using lime brought from Palmyra.

The restoration is financed solely by the Syrian government, without any aid from international organizations like UNESCO.

“In my opinion, this is a political issue, before, in 2014 and 2015, they had been helping, but now we receive no aid. This concerns not only UNESCO, but also other missions that used to work here. Very few organizations are helping now,” the museum’s director noted.

Saad was not able to specify the exact time the restoration process would take. According to him, the process could be sped up with the help of the international community.

“It’s hard to say, we need help from everyone that can provide it — various missions, everyone interested in maintaining cultural heritage. TV and magazines always point out the importance of maintaining cultural heritage sites, however, we do not see this in practice, there is no help,” Saad concluded.

Palmyra, often referred to as the Bride of the Syrian Desert, was a notable center of commerce and culture at the crossing of trade routes in ancient times. It reached especial grandeur in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD.

A number of illustrious architectural monuments relate to that period. UNESCO placed Palmyra on its list of world cultural heritage sites. The IS militants who controlled Palmyra from May 2015 through March 2016 and from December 2016 through March 2017 destroyed a number of ancient monuments.

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Court in Gibraltar Extends Iranian Tanker’s Detention for 30 Days

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A court in Gibraltar has extended the detention of an Iranian oil tanker for 30 days, AFP reported, citing Gibraltar’s attorney general. According to the agency, the order authorising the detention of the tanker can be extended for up to 90 days.

“We look forward to continuing to work constructively and positively with officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran to facilitate the release of the Grace 1 pursuant to the satisfaction of all legal requirements,” Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo told the territory’s parliament, as quoted by AFP.

On 4 July, the supertanker Grace 1 was detained off the coast of the British Mediterranean territory of Gibraltar on suspicions of it carrying oil to Syria for refinement.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt discussed the issue earlier this week, with Mr Zarif urging London to release the tanker. He also stressed that Tehran would continue its oil exports under any circumstances. Mr Hunt, for his part, said that the Grace 1 would be released once Iran gives guarantees about its destination.

The tanker’s four crew members were freed on bail earlier this month after being questioned.

The situation in the Gulf has remained tense since the US tightened the sanctions it reimposed on the Iranian oil sector after quitting the 2015 nuclear deal.

A series of incidents, including attacks on oil tankers, took place in the Gulf of Oman in May and June. Washington has blamed the attacks on Tehran, but the latter has denied all the accusations.

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Russia in Confidential Consultations with the Netherlands on MH17 Crash

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Russia is having confidential consultations with the Netherlands on MH17 flight that was downed over Donbass in July 2014, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said on Friday.

“Such consultations are underway, but we agreed that the process will have a confidential character,” the diplomat said.

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Links Between Russia and EU’s Right-Wing Parties Cause for Concern, Says Merkel

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Relations between Moscow and EU’s right-wing political parties are a cause for concern, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday during a press conference in Berlin.

“Some questions arise here,” she stated. “We have constantly monitored the very strong support that right-leaning parties have received from Russia in one way or the other.” “This is a cause for concern,” Merkel stressed.

The German chancellor also mentioned the scandal regarding the alleged financing of Italy’s Lega party by Russia, noting that the Italian side must investigate the allegations in detail.

Milan’s prosecution launched a case based on the publications on the US BuzzFeed website and in the Italian L’Espresso weekly news magazine shedding light on the alleged financing Lega was receiving from Russia, qualifying the case as international corruption.

The main suspect in the case is one of the associates of Italy’s Deputy PM Matteo Salvini, head of th-e Lombardy-Russia Association Gianluca Savoini. According to the prosecution, his voice can be heard on the BuzzFeed published audio recording of an alleged conversation with Russian entrepreneurs with ties to the Kremlin, during which a possible oil supply contract was discussed. The party could have received the deal dividends amounting to $65 mln.

Both Salvini and Savoini have denied the allegations.

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