Paris’ Eiffel Tower is reportedly badly in need of repairs

The Eiffel Tower is riddled with rust and in need of full repairs, but instead it is being given a cosmetic 60 million euro paint job ahead of the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, according to confidential reports cited by French magazine Marianne.

The wrought-iron 324-meter (1,063 ft) high tower, built by Gustave Eiffel in the late 19th century, is among the most visited tourist sites in the world, welcoming about six million visitors each year.

However, confidential reports by experts cited by Marianne suggest the monument is in a poor state and riddled with rust.

“It is simple, if Gustave Eiffel visited the place he would have a heart attack,” one unnamed manager at the tower told Marianne.

The company that oversees the tower, Societe d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel (SETE), could not be immediately reached for comment.

The tower is currently undergoing a repaint costing 60 million euros in preparation of the 2024 Olympics, the 20th time the Tower has been repainted.

Some 30% of the tower was supposed to have been stripped and then have two new coats applied but delays to the work caused by the COVID pandemic and the presence of lead in the old paint means only 5% will be treated, Marianne said.

SETE is reluctant to close the tower for a long time because of the tourist revenue that would be lost, it added.

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‘Get the Stretcher!’ Life and Death on Ukraine’s Front Line.

DONETSK REGION, Ukraine — Between the cracks of mortar fire and the metallic bangs of Russian self-detonating mines, Yurii, a Ukrainian Army medic, readied an intravenous line for the soldier sprawled on the stretcher below him.

The soldier looked to be in his mid-20s. His face was smeared with dirt and fear.

“Do you remember your name?” Yurii asked.

“Maksym,” the soldier whispered back.

Earlier that morning Maksym had been under a Russian bombardment at the front in eastern Ukraine that had left him severely concussed. Yurii and other Ukrainian medics were tending to him at an aid station barely removed from what has come to be known as the “zero line” where the shelling is relentless.

several anti-vehicle mines around the road and aid station where Yurii and his crew were treating Maksym. Even if the mines are not disturbed, they are set to detonate on a daylong timer.

Ukrainian forces had cleared some of the soda-bottle-shaped explosives, one soldier said, pointing to a video taken on his phone in the predawn darkness that showed troops shooting at a mine until it exploded. But mines were still in the bushes, waiting to detonate.

Yurii and the other medics tried to keep their focus on the wounded soldier. But the immediate demands stretched beyond their checklist of treating intense bleeding or assessing the airway. How to comfort the wounded? How to reassure them that they have survived and made it away from the front? How to give hope even if dozens of their friends have died?

“Don’t be afraid, my friend. You’ve arrived,” Yurii said soothingly as Maksym wormed around on the stretcher, his eyes wide and frantic.

It was clear that in Maksym’s mind, the shelling hadn’t stopped. He was breathing hard, his chest rising and falling in rapid bursts.

“Don’t worry. I am putting the needle in the vein. You’ve arrived, it’s a hard concussion,” Yurii soothed again.

The soldiers who carried Maksym to the aid station piled back in their truck to drive the roughly two miles back to the front line. They were returning to the same task their friend had been carrying out before he was nearly killed: waiting for a Russian attack or for an incoming Russian artillery round to find them.

As they departed, a soldier beyond the trees yelled “Fire!” A Ukrainian mortar launched a shell toward Russian positions. Smoke drifted up from the firing site.

The artillery war in Ukraine’s east is seemingly never-ending. Even without either side attacking or counter attacking, the shelling is constant — wounding and killing and driving those soldiers cowering in trenches and foxholes slowly insane.

At the sound of mortar fire, Maksym lurched on the stretcher once more.

“It’s all good! Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid. It’s all fine. All fine. These are ours. These are ours,” Yurii told Maksym, assuring him that he wasn’t being shelled again.

Maksym’s breathing slowed. He covered his face with his hands and then looked around.

The first complete thought Maksym organized and communicated was a string of expletives directed at the Russians.

“Go on, talk to us. You got a wife? You got kids?” Yurii nudged, seizing the opportunity to bring Maksym back among the living.

“The shrapnel,” he muttered.

“Shrapnel?” Yurii asked. He was surprised. Maksym was clearly concussed, but showed no signs of other wounds.

“He’s got shrapnel right here, and here,” Maksym said, his voice trailing off. The medics quickly realized that he was talking about his friend who was wounded when the Russian artillery struck earlier.

“He’s been driven away, taken to the hospital,” Yurii said, though the medic had no idea what had happened to Maksym’s friend. He was just trying to keep his patient from panicking again.

“Is he alive?” Maksym asked cautiously.

“He has to be,” Yurii replied, though he didn’t know.

For Yurii’s ambulance crew and other medics assigned to the area, these types of calls are common. Some days they wait a few miles from the bus station-turned-aid station, the determined pickup point between the front lines and safety, and their 24-hour shift ticks by uneventfully: Yurii calls his wife several times a day. Ihor sleeps. Vova, the son of an armorer, thinks about how to modernize Ukraine’s Soviet-era weaponry.

Other days the casualties are frequent and the medics are left with a constant rotation between the hospital and the aid station as they place bloodied men with tourniquets strapped to their extremities in the back of their ambulances.

Yurii stared down at Maksym, encouraged by his newfound ability to communicate.

“You’re not hurt anywhere else?” Yurii asked.

Maksym put his hand behind his neck and pulled away, looking at his appendage, almost expecting blood to be there.

“We were all covered by shelling,” Maksym said quietly.

“It’s all good, you’re alive,” Yurii said, trying to change the subject. “The main thing is you did well. Good lad.”

As Yurii readied the stretcher and Maksym for the ambulance, an aging red sedan, a Russian Lada, pulled up to the aid station. The Soviet-era staple came to an abrupt halt, practically skidding on the churned up pavement.

The dust settled. In the distance artillery thudded in a familiar rhythm.

A man in a baggy gray T-shirt, clearly distraught, jumped from the car’s driver seat. The passenger opened his door and yelled: “The woman is wounded!”

She was an older woman named Zina, they would soon learn, and she was facedown in the back seat.

Another group of medics would take Maksym to the hospital while Yurii’s crew handled the newly arrived patient in the sedan, the medics decided.

The two men who had driven Zina to the aid station — her husband and her son-in-law — had asked Ukrainian military positions near their home where to take her after shrapnel from an artillery blast struck her head. The troops had directed them to Yurii’s aid station.

In the Lada, Zina’s blood had begun to pool on the fabric. She seemed to be at least in her 50s, unconscious, another civilian wounded in the four-month-old war, like so many who have been caught between the guns.

“Get the stretcher!” Yurii called.

It was not quite 11 a.m., and another of the Russian-strewn mines suddenly exploded near the aid station.

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Big Ben Bongs Will Soon Ring Out Again Across London

LONDON — For five years, the most famous clock tower in Britain was hidden behind an ugly fortress of scaffolding, and its hourly bong was rendered mute.

But the restoration work is done, and this summer, a sound familiar to Londoners for more than a century and a half will again ring out across the British capital — Big Ben is back.

The clock tower — officially known as the Elizabeth Tower since 2012 when it was renamed in honor of the queen’s diamond jubilee — stands tall over the Palace of Westminster, which houses the British Parliament and is one of the world’s most instantly recognized constructions. But it is the nickname of the biggest bell in the belfry that draws the most name recognition: Big Ben.

started ticking in 1859. More than 3,500 parts were removed from the 316-foot tower, including much of its iron roof.

Brexit supporters fought in vain to return it to service to mark the country’s exit from the European Union.

The challenges of making that happen, though, become clear when climbing the confined, 334-step stairwell that winds up to the belfry. Also evident: the quality of the renovation.

Bright morning light shone in through the four restored clock faces — perched high above the Houses of Parliament — each with 324 pieces of pot opal glass produced in Germany. Newly refurbished golden orbs that decorate the tower’s stonework glinted in the sun.

The sheer size of Big Ben, weighing a little over 15 tons, is impressive, as is the intricacy of a clock mechanism based on the most advanced technology available to its 19th-century creators. It still loses no more than a second in accuracy a week.

The Elizabeth Tower is not the first clock tower to watch over Parliament — that one is thought to date from around 1290. In 1834, a fire destroyed the Palace of Westminster, leading to the construction of the modern-day building that is one of the most famous examples of Gothic Revival architecture in the world.

And when the original clock tower was built, it was constructed with a rising scaffold, “so it rose as if by magic, it was noted at the time,” Mr. Watrobski said.

In May 1859, crowds lined the streets to greet Big Ben’s arrival. The enormous bell was pulled by 16 horses to Westminster, where it took 18 hours to haul it nearly 200 feet to the belfry before it could first ring out.

Back then, the clock tower was the most advanced and ambitious public building of its age, but by 2017, stonework was deteriorating, water was leaking into the belfry, and the steps, ironwork and guttering were all in need of repair. There was even still damage dating from 1941, when Parliament was bombed during World War II.

“Like all historic buildings, you don’t really know until you peel off the skin what you are going to find underneath,” Mr. Watrobski said. “There was a considerable amount of damage to cast iron and to stonework.”

The restoration work has gone a long way to modernizing the Elizabeth Tower, which will reopen this year to tourists. But the improvements will benefit visitors and maintenance staff alike.

An elevator has been installed, as has a restroom at the top — the lack of which previously meant Big Ben’s maintenance workers had to trek down the 334 steps whenever they were in need of one. There is even now a spot for the staff to make tea.

While Big Ben needs constant maintenance, the clock had never been fully serviced until this restoration. After it was dismantled, it was secreted away from London, more than 280 miles, to the workshop of the Cumbria Clock Company in northwestern England.

Given its symbolic importance, its whereabouts while being serviced was never disclosed.

To help keep the work under wraps, the Cumbria Clock Company removed signs from its building to make it harder for uninvited visitors to find. When a group of walkers once peered through a window and asked if they were looking at the famous clock, they were told that they were instead viewing one from Manchester Town Hall.

“It was very important that what we were doing was kept secret,” said the company’s director, Keith Scobie-Youngs, who was worried that it might attract thieves or vandals as well as curious tourists.

Mr. Scobie-Youngs said that the clock had been in remarkably good condition and that he had been awed by the skill of the 19th-century clockmakers.

“Nobody had ever attempted to build a clock that size to the accuracy demanded,” he said, adding, “I refer to it as being the smartphone of the 1850s.”

Mr. Scobie-Youngs also lauded Big Ben: “There is a unique sound to it,” he said. “It is that unique heartbeat.”

The bell’s bong, he said, was instantly recognizable to Britons. “When people were a long way from home, and it was on the radio, that unique sound brought people home again,” Mr. Scobie-Youngs said.

Freshly painted, finished with enough gold to cover four tennis courts, and complete with more than 7,000 replacement stones and carvings, the exterior of the Elizabeth Tower stands as a monument to what can be achieved by modern restoration, protecting it, hopefully, for the next 75 years.

Even for those who spent years on the project, the result was a pleasant surprise, said Charlotte Claughton, a senior project leader. She said that she was taken aback when the scaffolding came down and she saw the building shining, “as if it was new,” in the sunlight.

“It was hugely exciting to see it. There are a few moments that catch you off guard, and that was one of them,” Ms. Claughton said. “It was heartwarming.”

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Investigators of War Crimes in Ukraine Face Formidable Challenges

KOROPY, Ukraine — Four men tugged at long strips of fabric to lift a coffin out of the gaping hole in the backyard of a small house. They flung the lid open to reveal the moldy corpse of Oleksiy Ketler, who had been killed instantly by shrapnel when a mortar fell on the road in Koropy, a village outside Khavkiv in northeastern Ukraine, in March.

Mr. Ketler, a father of two young children, would have celebrated his 33rd birthday on June 25, if he had not been outside his house at the wrong time. Now, his body has become another exhibit in Ukraine’s wide-ranging effort to collect evidence to prosecute Russia and its military for war crimes in the brutal killings of Ukrainian civilians.

Experts say the process is proceeding with extraordinary speed and may become the biggest effort in history to hold war criminals to account. But it faces an array of formidable challenges.

rape, execution-style killings and the deportation of what Mr. Belousov said could be tens of thousands of Ukrainians to Russia — were being investigated.

At the same time, hundreds of international experts, investigators and prosecutors have descended on Ukraine from an alphabet soup of international agencies.

Early in the war, the top prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, arrived in Ukraine with several dozen investigators. But the court, which is based in the Netherlands, tries a limited number of cases, and usually seeks to prosecute only the upper echelon of political and military leaders.

It is also slow: Investigators working on the 2008 Russian-Georgian war did not apply for arrest warrants until this year.

There are a number of other initiatives, too. Amal Clooney, an international human rights lawyer, is part of a team advising the Ukrainian government on bringing international legal action against Russia. The United Nations has started a commission to investigate human rights violations in Ukraine — with three human rights experts — but cannot establish a formal tribunal because Russia wields veto power on the U.N. Security Council.

Investigators in Poland are collecting testimonies from refugees who fled there to feed to Ukrainian prosecutors. France has sent mobile DNA analysis teams to embed with the Ukrainian authorities to collect evidence. Nongovernmental organizations based in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, are going to territories recently occupied by Russian soldiers to collect witness statements.

The involvement of multiple countries and organizations does not necessarily lead to a more productive investigation, said Wayne Jordash, a British criminal lawyer who lives in Ukraine. Mr. Jordash, who is part of an international task force supporting Ukrainian prosecutors, was critical of some of the efforts to assist Ukraine judicially, describing it as “smoke and mirrors,” without results and clear priorities.

The International Criminal Court’s investigators were only just getting going, he noted, and experts from other countries have also been cycling in for stints of several weeks.

“You can’t just parachute into an investigation for two weeks and expect it to be meaningful,” Mr. Jordash said.

Iva Vukusic, a scholar of post-conflict justice at the University of Utrecht, said, “Resources are being poured in, but maybe down the line we will see that they were not being spent the right way,” for instance, duplicating investigation efforts rather than providing psychosocial support to victims.

Ms. Vukusic pointed out the large size of the endeavor. Across the country, she said, “there are thousands of potential suspects, and thousands of potential trials.” All of the material needs to be properly marshaled and analyzed, she said.

“If you have 100,000 items — videos, statements, documents — if you don’t know what you’re sitting on, it limits the use of material,” Ms. Vukusic said.

She also cautioned that the International Criminal Court’s leadership could face criticism by collaborating too closely with the Ukrainian authorities because, she said, Ukraine was also “an actor in this war.”

She feared Ukrainian officials were setting expectations for justice very high, and possibly wasting scarce resources on absentia trials.

“No big case is going to be finished in two years or five years because of the scale of the violence and the fact it is going on for so long,” she said.

Mr. Belousov, the Ukrainian war crimes prosecutor, acknowledged as much. “We are playing a long game,” he said. Even if the perpetrator is tried and convicted in absentia, Mr. Belousov said, “We understand in a year, or two or three or five, these guys won’t be able to avoid punishment.”

Mr. Belousov said that he appreciated the international assistance but that coordinating it was the “biggest challenge” law enforcement authorities experienced.

For example, the Kharkiv prosecutors used a shiny new forensic investigation kit donated by the European Union for their exhumation in Koropy, the village in northeast Ukraine. But a police officer from a unit in Dmytrivka, a 45-minute drive west of Kyiv, said they had not seen or met with any international investigators or received any equipment from them.

Mr. Belousov said Ukraine wanted to take the lead in prosecuting the cases — a divergence from previous post-conflict situations in which the national authorities initially left the process to international tribunals.

But most Ukrainian investigators have little experience in these kinds of inquiries.

For example, Andriy Andriychuk, who joined the police force in the region west of Kyiv two years ago, said his work previously involved investigating local disputes or livestock theft. Now it involves “a lot more corpses,” he said.

On a recent sunny afternoon, he was called to a wooded area near the town of Dmytrivka. Several days before, police officers had received a call from foresters who had come upon a man’s grave. The dead man, Mykola Medvid, 56, had been buried with his passport; his hat was hung on top of a cross made out of sticks.

His daughter and his cousin identified his body. The local morgue officially established the cause of death: a fatal shot in the chest.

Since then, his daughter Mariia Tremalo has not heard from the investigators. No witnesses have come forward, and it was unclear who might have killed her father, or why. Still, she is hungry for justice.

“My father will never be returned,” she said. “But I would like the perpetrators to be punished.”

Right now that seems all but impossible.

In Koropy, the village near Kharkiv, Mr. Ketler’s mother, Nadezhda Ketler, was inconsolable as the gravediggers and inspectors worked. She wandered down the road to another part of her property. Six officials stood over her son’s body, photographing and documenting as his best friend, Mykhailo Mykhailenko, who looked petrified and smelled of stale alcohol, identified him.

The next day, Mr. Ketler’s body was taken to the city’s morgue, where the final cause of death was established.

Eventually, Ms. Ketler gathered the strength to show investigators the crater made by the bomb that killed him, leading the police to the exact spot where he died. Ms. Ketler stood looking at the trees as they rustled in the wind. She did not speak to anyone. She said she did not know if a guilty verdict in a war crimes trial, if it ever came, would ease the pain of losing her child.

“I had to bury my son twice,” Ms. Ketler said later. “You understand, this is hard enough to do once, and to have to do it a second time. The pain of a mother will not go anywhere.”

Evelina Riabenko, Diana Poladova and Oleksandr Chubko contributed reporting.

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Ill-Prepared for Combat, Volunteers Die in Battles Far From Home

RUDNE, Ukraine — Yurii Brukhal, an electrician by trade, didn’t have a very dangerous role when he volunteered for Ukraine’s territorial defense forces at the start of the war. He was assigned to make deliveries and staff a checkpoint in the relative safety of his sleepy village.

Weeks later, his unit deployed from his home in the west to a frontline battle in eastern Ukraine, the epicenter of the fiercest fighting against Russian forces. He was killed on June 10.

Andrii Verteev, who worked in a grocery store in the village, spent the first months of the war guarding a small overpass after work and returning home to his wife and daughter at night. Then he, too, volunteered to head east. He died in battle in Luhansk, just weeks before Mr. Brukhal.

small protests as wives, mothers and daughters of some of the those who died express their discontent.

But others, like Mr. Brukhal’s family, said they supported their family members’ decision, despite their grief.

Before he left for the war, he had been building a home for his two daughters. At a memorial two weeks after his death, villagers gathered in prayer around a long table inside the house, its cinder block walls still exposed, a spread of food laid out in front of them.

It was the first meal in the still unfinished home, Ms. Datsko, his sister, said.

“It’s just horrible when you see what’s happening in the cemetery, and you don’t know when it will stop,” she said, reflecting on the rows of new graves appearing in Lviv’s military cemetery since her brother’s burial. “We are going to have lots of women without husbands and children without fathers.”

Oksana Stepanenko, 44, is also dealing with grief, along with her daughter Mariia, 8. Her husband, Andrii Verteev, was killed on May 15.

Like Mr. Brukhal, he had been a volunteer, tasked with protecting an overpass just up the road during the early weeks of the war. Then he joined an anti-aircraft unit of the military, and was redeployed to the east.

His death added a new level of pain to the family. Ms. Stepanenko’s son, Artur, died of an illness at age 13 three years ago. Now a corner of their small living room has become a shrine to the boy and his father.

Ms. Stepanenko said she finds solace in her faith and the fact that it was her husband’s choice to go to the front lines. But, like so many others in Ukraine she asked, “How many guys have to die before this ends?”

Despite the losses, families of fighters sent to the east said they viewed it as their patriotic duty to defend their nation.

Natalia Rebryk, 39, who married her husband, Anton Tyrgin, just three months before the Russian invasion, said she naïvely thought she would be spared any personal connection to the war.

“This war began twice for me,” Ms. Rebryk said. “The first time it started was the day of the invasion, and the second time was when Anton joined the arm

Mr. Tyrgin worked in the music industry before the war and had no military background when he volunteered for the Ukrainian National Guard. He spent the early weeks of the conflict guarding strategic sites, but in early June, his unit was told that it may also be sent east.

Ms. Rebryk said worries that he doesn’t have enough training and braces herself daily for that call she hopes never comes.

“We expected it to end in two or three weeks. Then in another two or three weeks,” she said. “When you talk with the soldiers, you realize it may not even end this year.”

In Rudne, away from the chaos, destruction and death on the frontline, the war’s brutality can sometimes seem remote. While air-raid sirens still ring out, it has been months since they sent residents scrambling for shelters.

But the funerals of men like Mr. Brukhal bring it startlingly close, and others from the small community of Rudne are still fighting in the east.

Yordana Brukhal, 13, said that her father felt it was his duty to join the war, even though he had been her primary caretaker after he separated from her mother last year.

“Up until recently, I felt this war only mentally, not physically,” she said. “And since my father died, I feel it physically as well.”

Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Natalia Yermak contributed reporting from Druzhkivka, Ukraine.

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NATO Summit Ends, Leaving Leaders to Sell Their Pledges Back Home

Credit…Str/EPA, via Shutterstock

The United Nations is coordinating talks among Ukraine, Russia and Turkey in the hopes of hammering out security guarantees that would allow Ukraine to export its grain and help ease a global food crisis that is being exacerbated by the war.

But the Ukrainian government’s negotiator expressed skepticism in a recent interview with The New York Times that Russia would abide by any guarantee unless Kyiv had the military power to enforce it.

The Ukrainian negotiator, Rustem Umerov, told the Times that the country was preparing for talks in Istanbul to discuss a way to end Russia’s de facto blockade of the Black Sea port of Odesa to allow the shipment of the 20 million metric tons of grain Ukraine has in storage silos.

But he said that only the delivery of powerful naval weapons committed by Western allies would be an effective security guarantee, and he accused Russia of seeking to use the issue to shore up its own position in the Black Sea.

“If we will open up the ports, it means that the northwestern Black Sea will open up to them,” he said. No international backer, he added, “whoever guarantees us,” could be relied on to strike back if Russia then attacked Ukrainian shipping.

“And they understand it,” he said. “That’s why they are pressurizing the world to squeeze Ukraine to open up the ports.”

Before the war began, Ukraine exported about six million metric tons of grain a month, Kate Newton, an emergency coordinator for the U.N. World Food Program in Ukraine, said at a news conference in Kyiv on Thursday. Now, the country is only able to to export about one million metric tons per month, she said.

“We are doing everything we can,” she said, “exporting grain by truck, rail and river.” But, she said, without use of the Black Sea ports, it would not be possible to raise export levels much.

Russian forces have also bombed grain storage centers and fields across Ukraine. When Ukraine started shipping grain from a port on the Danube River, the Russians bombed the primary bridge trucks could use to get there.

In previous negotiations, Moscow has insisted on the right to “inspect” all vessels carrying Ukrainian grain — a condition that Kyiv would not accept.

Credit…Dogukan Keskinkilic/Anadolu Agency, via Getty Images

Ukraine’s military on Thursday said it had driven Russian forces from Snake Island, a strategically important outcrop whose loss could undermine Moscow’s control over Black Sea shipping lanes. But Russia’s de facto blockade showed no sign of easing.

Mr. Umerov and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba have accused Russia of sowing disinformation about who is to blame for the blockade. The grain issue, and even the prospect of famine, have become part an information war waged by Moscow, Mr. Umerov said.

“They are weaponizing the famine,” Mr. Umerov said. “They are addressing the African states, saying, ‘We are always ready to support you, it’s Ukrainians who are not opening the ports.’” African countries are heavily dependent on grain from Russia and Ukraine.

The Russian defense ministry cast its withdrawal from Snake Island as a humanitarian gesture and repeated that it was not to blame for the food crisis. But at a recent appearance, Margarita Simonyan, the editor in chief of the Kremlin mouthpiece RT, appeared to suggest that the crisis could be to Moscow’s political benefit.

“I’ve heard it several times in Moscow from many people: ‘All our hope is in the famine,’” she told the St. Petersburg Economic Forum on June 20, adding that those people’s expectation was that famine would drive countries to lift sanctions on Russia.

Kyiv has been working to counter that narrative. Last week, Mr. Kuleba spent an hour speaking to journalists from Africa, emphasizing Ukraine’s urgency to resume exporting.

“The only country that is not really under time pressure here is Russia,” he said in an interview. “Everyone else is running out of time, be it us as suppliers, African and Asian countries as recipients, or the United Nations, whose reputation is at stake.”

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US delegation unable to secure release of Americans detained in Venezuela

CNN  — 

A US delegation that traveled to Venezuela this week was unable to secure the release of any of the Americans detained there.

US Special President Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens was able to meet with wrongfully detained Americans while in the capital city of Caracas and discussed “with senior Maduro regime officials the importance of ensuring that they receive appropriate care where needed,” a State Department spokesperson told CNN.

However, the visit by Carstens and Ambassador Jimmy Story, who heads the US’ Venezuelan Affairs Unit, ended Thursday without any of the Americans whom the US considers wrongfully detained being able to return home.

There are at least eight Americans currently known to be wrongfully detained in Venezuela – five of the six American oil executives known collectively as the “CITGO 6” – Tomeu Vadell, Jorge Toledo, Alirio Jose Zambrano, Jose Luis Zambrano and Jose Angel Pereira – along with Luke Denman, Airan Berry and Matthew Heath.

“We will continue to press for the immediate and unconditional release of all wrongfully detained US nationals in Venezuela at every opportunity,” the State Department spokesperson said.

A senior State Department official told CNN that the discussions between the US and Maduro officials were “constructive but both sides have more work to do to narrow the gaps” between their positions. “Some progress” was made from previous discussions between the two sides, according to the State official, who said there is also a feeling that there is “an open line of communication on this topic” between the US and the regime of Nicolas Maduro, whom the US does not recognize as the legitimate leader of Venezuela.

The official declined to provide specific details about the discussions or say whom Carstens and Story met with from the Maduro government, but Carstens was able to visit with all of the Americans whom the State Department considers wrongfully detained. The visits with the detainees did not seem like they were rushed, the official told CNN.

There was also a sense that the men appreciated getting to see the special envoy “because without an embassy there and the consular checkups that come when you have an embassy in country, they just don’t have that opportunity to tell part of their story and to let their loved ones know that someone saw them and they can report back, ‘Hey, I saw your husband, your brother, your father, and here’s how we looked and this is what he said,’” the official said. The US suspended operations at its embassy in Venezuela in March 2019.

One of the detained Americans, Heath, a US veteran who has been detained nearly two years on what the State Department calls “specious” charges, attempted suicide earlier this month.

The senior State Department official said that the delegation had been planning to make the trip to conduct “a health and welfare visit” for all of the detained Americans prior to Heath’s suicide attempt, but concern about his welfare lent urgency to having the visit this week, and that concern was highlighted in discussions with Venezuelan officials.

Heath’s aunt Trudy Rutherford said in a statement Thursday they “believe that Matthew’s physical and mental health both continue to be at risk and are fearful he may attempt suicide again.”

“While we are incredibly grateful for Ambassador Carstens and his team for having made this trip, it is important that there be continued, high level engagement between the U.S. Government centered around bringing Matthew and the other American detainees home,” she said.

“President Biden and President Maduro both stand to benefit from ending the ordeal for all of these Americans and their families and neither benefits from their prolonged detention,” Rutherford said.

The family of Vadell, one of the “CITGO 6” who has been imprisoned since 2017, said in a statement that they “are beyond disappointed to see another plane land in the United States without Tomeu on it.”

“For over four and a half years, this innocent man’s human rights have been violated,” the family said. “It’s unacceptable.”

The Vadell family called on “all stakeholders,” including the US government, Venezuelan authorities, CITGO and the United Nations, to work to secure his immediate release, noting he is almost 63 years old and “coping with heart issues and latent tuberculosis.”

“His health and safety are our highest priority,” they said. “We need everyone involved to act with urgency, because every day matters.”

Two Americans who had been detained in Venezuela, including one of the CITGO 6, were released in March following the visit of two top US government officials to Caracas.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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Magnificent ancient mosaic found near Tel Aviv returns home

Written by Reuters

An exceptionally well-preserved Roman floor mosaic, showing a rich variety of fish, animals, birds and ships, has returned to the site where it was first found in a Tel Aviv suburb after a decade-long tour of some of the world’s top museums.

The 1,700 year-old mosaic, from the late Roman period, was discovered in 1996 during highway construction work, but was not put on display until 2009, when sufficient funding to preserve it was donated.

The colorful mosaic, 55 feet long (17 meters) and about 29 feet wide (9 meters) may have served as the foyer floor of a mansion in a wealthy neighborhood of Lod, near what is now Tel Aviv, the Israel Antiquities Authority said in a statement.

“The owner was probably a very rich merchant because he traveled throughout the world and he saw things, like all the ships and the fish on display in the mosaic,” said archaeologist Hagit Torge from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The design of the mosaic was influenced by North African mosaics and lacks any depiction of people, suggesting it may have belonged to a Christian or a Jew who wanted to avoid pagan attributes such as depiction of Roman gods, said archaeologist Amir Gorzalczany from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The mosaic will now be exhibited at an archaeological center built where it was found, in Lod.

Top image caption: Workers clean a restored Roman-era mosaic after it was put on display at its original site in Lod, now an Israeli city where an archaeological center has been inaugurated on June 27, 2022. Reuters/ Amir Cohen

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Egypt’s Iconic Nile Houseboats Face Demolition

CAIRO — Rowing up to the cheerful turquoise houseboat on the Nile, a fisherman saluted the white-haired woman swaying on its deck.

“How are you holding up?” he called to the woman, Ekhlas Helmy, 88, as his wife dragged back the oars. “May God bring down the bully!”

This week may be their last sharing that particular stretch of the Nile, a narrow tract in central Cairo that, since the 1800s, has been lined with wooden houseboats — homes that double as living lore. This month, the government suddenly ordered Ms. Helmy’s houseboat and 31 others demolished, saying they were unsafe and unlicensed.

famous films were set on others. On the riverbank, life was peaceful, airy and private, nothing like the dusty, frenzied metropolis whose imagination the floating homes had captured for so long.

modernize — and monetize — much of Cairo by handing it over to private developers or the military, bulldozing several historic neighborhoods to build new high-rises, roads and bridges.

singers Jalila, Zubayda and Zanuba.

Mounira al-Mahdia, a celebrated 1920s diva. The houseboat of another singer, Badia Masabni, was said to be so popular among Cairo’s elite that a rumor spread at the time that governments were formed aboard.

Back then, there were at least 200 houseboats up and down the Nile. But under President Gamal Abdel Nasser, many of the structures were moved to clear the river for water sports, said Wael Wakil, 58, who was born and raised in the houseboat he still lives on.

That left about 40 boats moored where they sit now, next to Kit Kat, a neighborhood named after a local World War II-era nightclub popular among Allied soldiers.

installed a pair of German spies on one houseboat in the area — with the help, in some tellings, of a belly dancer.

largely open to the public, became crowded with private clubs and cafes.

The authorities have made clear that they want more of those: The houseboat owners say they have been told that they can pay more than $6,500 to temporarily dock elsewhere while they apply for commercial licenses to open cafes or restaurants in their former homes. But that, they argue, is hardly a fair or attractive option.

“They’re destroying the past, they’re destroying the present, and they’re destroying the future, too,” said Neama Mohsen, 50, a theater instructor who has lived on one of the houseboats for three decades. “I see this as a crime, and no one can stop it. They’re taking away our lives as if we’re criminals or terrorists.”

Today, some of the houseboats are owned by politicians and businessmen, others by bohemians, still others by middle-class Egyptians who know no other life.

Mr. Wakil said his family moved to their houseboat in 1961. He remembers growing up fishing off its deck. Whenever he dropped a toy in the Nile, he said, a passing boatman would rescue it.

Now Mr. Wakil, a retired finance manager, has packed up, and is getting ready to move to an apartment his wife owns in the desert.

“But nothing will come close to compensating for this,” he said.

From Ms. Soueif’s favorite place in the house, the dressing room where she gives her grandchildren baths, she can see a mango tree in her riverbank garden that has not fruited for four years. Suddenly, this year, it produced what promises to be a bumper crop.

But this type of mango cannot be picked before mid-July. By then, if nothing changes, she and her houseboat will be gone.

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