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In Mexico, ancient Maya cave reveals mysterious painted hand prints

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(Last Updated On: May 2, 2021)

Dozens of black and red hand prints cover the walls of a cave in Mexico, believed to be associated with a coming-of-age ritual of the ancient Maya, according to an archeologist who has explored and studied the subterranean cavern.

The 137 prints, mostly made by the hands of children, are more than 1,200 years old, which would date them near the end of the ancient Maya’s classical zenith, when major cities across present-day southern Mexico and Central America thrived amid major human achievements in math and art.

The cave is located near the northern tip of Mexico‘s Yucatan peninsula, where the towering pyramids of urban centers like Uxmal and Chichen Itza still stand, and lies some 33 feet (10 meters) below a large ceiba tree, which the Maya consider sacred.

Archeologist Sergio Grosjean argues that the hand prints were likely made by children as they entered puberty, due to a analysis of their size, with the colors providing a clue to their meaning.

“They imprinted their hands on the walls in black… which symbolized death, but that didn’t mean they were going to be killed, but rather death from a ritual perspective,” he said.

“Afterwards, these children imprinted their hands in red, which was a reference to war or life,” he added.

Other Mayan artifacts found in the cave include a carved face and six painted relief sculptures, which date from between 800-1,000 A.D., a time when severe drought struck the region and may have contributed to the classical Maya’s sudden abandonment of major cities.

While the first Mayan settlements date back nearly 4,000 years, there were still large centers when Spanish conquerors arrived in the early 1500s.

Several million Maya continue to live in communities scattered across southeastern Mexican states like Chiapas and Campeche, in addition to Guatemala and Belize.

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Deputy leader of Taliban faction sustains ‘serious’ injuries in skirmish

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(Last Updated On: May 12, 2021)

Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi, deputy head of the Taliban splinter group in the western part of the country, was badly injured in a skirmish in Herat province, sources said.

Provincial officials told Ariana News that Niazi was wounded in a skirmish with Taliban militants in the Guzara district of the province.

The sources stated that Niazi, who reportedly is a pro-Taliban commander, is currently hospitalized in Herat’s public hospital.

According to the sources, three of Niazi’s bodyguards were killed in the skirmish.

The Taliban has not commented in this regard.

Niazi was believed to have been Mullah Mohammad Rasool’s deputy – the head of the faction that split from the Taliban in November 2015, following the announcement in July that year that the Taliban’s longtime leader Mullah Omar was dead.

The dissident faction’s announcement was at the time believed to be the first public and official split of the Afghan Taliban since the group formed in the 1990s.

Omar’s deputy at the time was Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor, who claimed power — sparking a battle over the group’s leadership.

Rasool and Niazi were among several Taliban commanders who challenged Mansoor’s appointment as leader. Mansoor was leader of the group from 29 July 2015 to 21 May 2016 but was killed in a drone strike by the United States in Pakistan.

Niazi was born 1968 in Pashtoon Zarghoon district, in Herat province and served as governor of Kabul Province under the Taliban regime.

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Barchi residents look back on maternity ward attack, appeal to MSF to return

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(Last Updated On: May 12, 2021)

It has been a year since the deadly attack on the maternity ward in a Dasht-e Barchi hospital in Kabul, a year filled with memories of the horror of the attack where gunmen cold-bloodedly gunned down mothers and mothers-to-be, staff and children in a four-hour siege.

But for the people of Dasht-e-Barchi, the attack at the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) run maternity ward, and the 24 people killed, including mothers and mothers-to-be, will never be forgotten.

For some local residents, MSF’s decision soon after the attack to withdraw from the hospital left them “shocked and hopeless”.

On Tuesday, Dr Isabelle Defourny, MSF director of operations, said: “Some weeks later, we had to make the difficult choice to withdraw from Dasht-e-Barchi. We knew we would leave behind huge needs.

“For many women in the neighbourhood, our maternity ward was a much-needed resource; 16,000 deliveries had taken place there in 2019 alone. But we couldn’t continue our activity after what happened,” Defourny said.

Thanking MSF for their services at the hospital over the years, one resident in the area, Ahmad Tamim, said on Wednesday: “People will never forget MSF ‘s generous service in its Dasht-e Barchi project and as well the tragic closure of the hospital that left everyone shocked, helpless and hopeless.

“All the people wished you would have continued your assistance in their slum and ghetto area after the attack, but unfortunately your abandonment became another sorrow for them,” he said.

For one MSF employee, Sayed Jawed Hashimi, who hid in a safe room during the attack, the scenes will haunt him for years to come.

“The worst memory ever! And the hardest four hours that we spent in the safe room, under shooting, bombing, and the dead bodies (mothers, babies, care takers, our colleague). What we saw after getting out of safe rooms, was like a nightmare, which takes several years to forget,” he told Ariana News.

Another resident of the area Omulbanin Nabizada, said simply to MSF: “Wish you could stay.”

Yet another appealed to them to resume work in their predominantly Shiite Hazara area.

Mystafa Asghari said: “Please resume your activities.”

Asila Mohammad said to Ariana News: “MSF should resume work in Kabul [in Dasht-e-Barchi] in order to save more mothers and children,” while Asadullah Azimi said: “We were victims and we were deprived of your cooperation for a crime others committed.”

Sakina Amiry, an Afghan journalist, stated: “After the terrorist attack the people have been in desperate need of health services. The hundred-bed hospital [which housed MSF’s maternity ward] now limits services,” she said.

“The maternity ward now only handles normal deliveries. MSF doctors please help those who even do not have bread to eat,” she said.

The maternity ward attack was carried out in the same area that was battered on Saturday in a deadly bombing against a girls school that killed at least 87 people, mostly teenage girls.

But, like many attacks, no group has claimed responsibility for this tragedy.

AFP reported Wednesday that few people in the area expect authorities to track down the perpetrators of the latest carnage — or prevent similar massacres in the future.

The Afghan government has continued to blame the Taliban for the maternity ward attack, but interior ministry spokesman Tareq Arian says no arrests were ever made.

The US, however, pinned the blame on the Islamic State group (Daesh).

“No evidence was publicly brought to support those claims,” Defourny told AFP.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Defourny said that while they didn’t think the MSF was specifically targeted, “the first targets of this attack were pregnant women and women in labour in a maternity ward which we ran.”

“We know that the attackers directly headed to the maternity ward and killed the pregnant women and women in labour who were present there. Two children who had come for routine vaccination and another caretaker were also shot dead in the attack. Healthcare staff were also killed and injured,” she said.

“We can’t work in an environment where patients and medical staff are targeted, and where we can’t prevent such a massacre from happening again.

“This attack clearly targeted pregnant women in a maternity ward run by MSF. And the fact-finding exercise confirmed that none of the different parties with whom we have relations in Afghanistan gave us specific alerts on it.

“Our will to continue working in Afghanistan is motivated by the dire medical needs of the Afghan people… but can only continue if minimum conditions of safety are ensured…,” she said.

“When MSF returned to Afghanistan 12 years ago – after we had withdrawn in 2004 following the killing of five of our colleagues – we knew it was one of the most dangerous countries to work in. At that time, our analysis was that it was possible to craft a safe working space for us, by renewing our engagement with all the different parties involved.

“Since then, after the attack on our hospital in Kunduz, and the one on the Dasht-e-Barchi maternity ward, we have to admit that this wasn’t enough. In these two attacks, 66 people were killed – by far the highest number of deaths in our programmes around the world over the last six years.

“Our organisation can’t accept the idea of integrating the loss of our staff or of the patients we treat as part of our work. We maintain our freedom to withdraw and stop our activities when we think that the risk of such severe attacks repeating themselves is too great,” she said.

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Taliban capture key district near Afghan capital

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(Last Updated On: May 12, 2021)

Taliban insurgents captured a key district just outside the Afghan capital Kabul in central Maidan Wardak province on Tuesday, forcing government forces to retreat, security officials have confirmed.

The capture of Nerkh district comes amid intensifying violence across the country following an announcement by the Taliban of a three-day ceasefire over Eid-ul Fitr.

Reuters reported that Tariq Arian, an interior ministry spokesman, said government troops made a “tactical retreat” from the district centre, which is a gateway to Kabul, after a heavy firefight with the Taliban.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, wrote on Twitter that they had killed and captured some members of the Afghan security forces after seizing the district. He added that they had also seized a large cache of ammunition.

The Afghan government did not comment on casualties among the security forces.

The Taliban have dug in, in Wardak, which lies less than an hour’s drive west of Kabul, and in nearby Logar province to the south.

Afghan officials say the Taliban have used the provinces – gateways to the capital – as launchpads for hit-and-run attacks and suicide bombings on Kabul, Reuters reported.

Abdul Rahman Tariq, Maidan Wardak’s governor confirmed the fall of the district to Ariana News.

“Unfortunately, as a result of a compromise, the Taliban took control of the district yesterday and the security forces made a tactical retreat,” he said.

Deputy spokesman for the Ministry of Defense, Fawad Aman tweeted Wednesday that Afghan commando forces have arrived in Maidan Wardak province.

“Nirkh district will become a Taliban cemetery,” Aman tweeted.

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