TIME europe

Father of Drowned Syrian Boys Describes How Tragedy Unfolded

Abdullah Kurdi, father of three-year old Aylan Kurdi, cries as he leaves a morgue in Mugla
Murad Sezer—Reuters Abdullah Kurdi, father of three-year old Aylan Kurdi, cries as he leaves a morgue in Mugla, Turkey on Sept. 3, 2015.

"I took my wife and my kids in my arms and I realized they were all dead"

(ANKARA, Turkey) — The father of a 3-year-old boy photographed lying dead on a Turkish beach has described how their overloaded boat flipped over in the sea and he quickly realized his sons and his wife had drowned.

The photograph of Aylan Kurdi has highlighted the issue of desperate migrants risking their lives to try to reach Europe.

Abdullah Kurdi said Thursday that the boat’s captain panicked due to high waves and jumped into the sea and fled, leaving him in control of the small craft.

“I took over and started steering. The waves were so high and the boat flipped. I took my wife and my kids in my arms and I realized they were all dead,” he said.

The distraught father said: “All I want is to be with my children at the moment.”

The powerful photographs of Aylan have sparked fresh debate about the deepening migrant crisis.

Read next: Iconic Drowned Boy’s Asylum Request Rejected by Canada

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TIME

13 Million Middle Eastern Children Are Unable to Attend School

Mideast Out Of School
Muhammed Muheisen—AP In this Aug. 11, 2015, file photo, Syrian refugee children attend a class at a makeshift school set up in a tent at an informal settlement near the Syrian border on the outskirts of Mafraq, Jordan. Forty percent of children from five conflict-scarred Middle Eastern countries are not in school, the U.N. child-welfare agency said in a report on Sept. 3, 2015

At least 8,500 schools are unusable, and millions of people have been displaced

Ongoing conflicts across the Middle East have prevented more than 13 million children from attending school, according to a report published Thursday by UNICEF, the U.N.’s Children’s Fund.

The report states that 40% of all children across the region are currently not receiving an education, a crisis it attributes to two repercussions of violence: the displacement of populations and structural damages to the schools themselves. Both issues stem from the tide of violence that has crossed the region in recent years.

The report examines nine countries — Syria, Palestine, Libya, Yemen, Sudan, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan — where a state of war has become the norm. Across the region, violence has rendered 8,500 schools unusable. In certain cases, communities have relied on school buildings to function as makeshift shelters for the displaced, with up to nine families living in a single classroom in former schools across Iraq.

The document’s authors pay particularly close attention to Syria, where a bloody civil war has displaced at least 9 million people since the war began in 2011.

“With the crisis now in its fifth year, basic public services inside Syria — including education — have been stretched to breaking point,” the report reads.

Within the country, the quality and availability of education depends on whether the relevant region is suffering violence — a reliably unpredictable metric. In states nearby, which have steadily received streams of Syrian refugees, governments “have shown generosity towards Syrian children,” but “the demands have far outstretched their limited resources.”

Fifty-three percent of Syrian refugee children whose families have fled to nearby host countries — specifically Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt — are currently out of school.

The report concludes with an entreaty to international policymakers to apportion financial and other resources to the regional crisis.

“With more than 13 million children already driven from classrooms by conflict, it is no exaggeration to say that the educational prospects of a generation of children are in the balance,” it reads. “The forces that are crushing individual lives and futures are also destroying the prospects for an entire region.”

TIME Iceland

Thousands of Icelanders Have Volunteered to Take Syrian Refugees Into Their Homes

The Icelandic government says it is now looking into increasing its refugee quota

More than 11,000 Icelanders have offered to take Syrian refugees into their homes, after their government said it would accept only 50 people this year.

A Facebook event created Sunday by Icelandic author and professor Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir encouraged members of the public to call on the government to increase its intake of refugees, reports Agence France-Presse.

Messages on the event page offered food, housing, clothes and schooling.

“I’m a single mother with a 6-year-old son,” wrote Hekla Stefansdottir. “We can take a child in need. I’m a teacher and would teach the child to speak, read and write Icelandic and adjust to Icelandic society. We have clothes, a bed, toys and everything a child needs. I would of course pay for the airplane ticket.”

The overwhelming response has led the country’s Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson to appoint a committee of ministers to discuss the possibility of allowing more refugees into the country, which has a population of about 330,000 residents, reports the Icelandic Review Online.

“It has been our goal in international politics to be of help in as many areas as possible and this is one of the areas where the need is most right now,” he told Icelandic news site RUV.

More than 4 million Syrians have fled the conflict in their home country and a further 7.6 million are displaced inside Syria, according to the U.N. The number of refugees pouring into Europe after fleeing war and persecution in Africa and the Middle East is the highest it’s been since the end of World War II.

Read next: These Celebrities Are Taking a Stand on the Refugee Crisis

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TIME Syria

Satellite Images Confirm Destruction of Ancient Temple in Palmyra

Palmyra Ancient Temple Destroyed Satellite Images ISIS
UNITAR-UNOSAT/AFP/Getty Images Top: A satellite image of the Temple of Bel seen in Syria's ancient city of Palmyra on Aug. 27, 2015; Bottom: A satellite image showing rubble at the temple's location on Aug. 31, 2015.

ISIS has taken credit for widespread destruction of ruins in the city

The United Nations used satellite images on Monday to confirm the destruction of an ancient temple in Syria’s Palmyra.

Witnesses had previously said that the 2,000-year-old Bel Temple was severely damaged in a massive explosion on Sunday. The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) has released numerous propaganda images showing militants blowing up ancient ruins in the historic city, which is under the group’s control.

“We can confirm destruction of the main building of the Temple of Bel as well as a row of columns in its immediate vicinity,” the UN said, according to AFP.

The agency also released a photo showing the temple’s destruction.

TIME migrants

Hungary’s Border Fence Isn’t Stopping Desperate Syrian Migrants

Migrant crisis
Yuri Kozyrev—NOOR for TIME A Syrian family prepares to turn themselves into a Hungarian detention facility for migrants arriving in the European Union in Roszke, Hungary on Aug. 29, 2015.

Hungary wants to impose prison terms against refugees who sneak across the border on their way to the E.U. They're still coming

The smuggler’s asking price was high—about $800—but that didn’t seem to bother Tarek al Saleh, a 23-year-old refugee from Syria. Nor was he much concerned about the risk of getting robbed and left for dead, as many other Syrian migrants have been this year while making their way to Europe. The gamble was worth it, he said, as long as the human trafficker showed him the way into Hungary, his gateway into the European Union—and steered him clear of any Hungarian police.

“He knows where police stand,” al Saleh said of his Serbian smuggler. “He knows where to go.” They had agreed to meet at sundown on Saturday in the Serbian village of Horgos, just a couple of miles south of the E.U. border, and walk north through the corn and sunflower fields. His final destination, he said, was the Netherlands, where he hoped to meet up with a family friend. But he’d be racing against the clock to get there through Eastern Europe.

On Saturday night, when al Saleh reached the northern edge of Serbia, soldiers in neighboring Hungary finished erecting a razor-wire fence along the Serbian border, which had previously been open and unguarded for anyone trying to walk into the E.U. Later this week, the Hungarian parliament is set to reinforce that fence with legal penalties. The right-wing government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban wants to make it a criminal offense to cross the border illegally, punishable by up to three years in prison.

“We are going to communicate to them: ‘Don’t come to Hungary,’” says Zoltan Kovacs, the government’s chief spokesman. “’Illegal border crossing is a crime. Do not attempt it, or you are going to be arrested.’”

Currently, Hungarian authorities have no right to arrest the migrants crossing into the E.U. illegally, even as their numbers have peaked at more than 3,000 per day, at the end of last week. The tide of refugees, mostly coming from conflict zones in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, has been part of the largest mass migration into Europe since World War II, and Hungary has already registered around 140,000 migrants so far this year, triple the number who arrived during the first eight months of 2014. Most of them have little interest in remaining in Hungary, but they have to pass through the country to reach the more prosperous states of Europe, often Germany, which expects to receive an unprecedented 800,000 applications for asylum this year, quadruple the number Germany registered in 2014. As a result, says Kovacs, “the whole system is overwhelmed.”

But for the moment, the Hungarian border fence is doing nothing to hinder the migrants’ arrival. Quite the opposite—its construction seems to have triggered a massive rush to reach the E.U. before Hungary shuts the gates. Thousands of people, nearly all identifying themselves to police as Syrian, kept streaming through the gaps in the fence through the weekend, leaving a trail of debris along the railroad tracks that they have used to guide their way north: empty bottles of baby powder, diapers, hand sanitizer, worn-out shoes, used blankets, apple rinds and peach pits. On Saturday night, a full and yellow moon rose to light their way, and local farmers came onto the road in northern Serbia to sell the migrants water, cigarettes and candy bars.

“They seem to be decent people,” said Zoltan Wass, a Serbian citizen who grows grapes and plums on a patch of land along the railroad. Even though the migrants have been picking fruit from his property without permission, he added, “We feel for them, maybe because we know what it’s like to run away from war.”

During the Balkan wars of the 1990s, Hungary was also on the receiving end of waves of refugees, mainly Serbs, Croats and Bosnians fleeing the slaughter. While the Balkan nations suffered through Europe’s first war since World War II, the Hungarians remember the discomfort of accommodating tens of thousands of their less fortunate neighbors. That may help explain why most Hungarians—more than 60%, according to a nationwide poll conducted in July–support the construction of the fence to keep out migrants from Syria and Afghanistan, lands that are far more culturally foreign to them than the nearby Balkans. But that doesn’t mean such measures will work.

Ghafek Aiad Alsaho, another Syrian in his mid-twenties who is trying to flee his country’s civil war, had been living in a Turkish refugee camp for nine months before he heard in July that Hungary was planning to seal its southern border. The news made him realize that it was time to make the journey of more than a thousand miles—through Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and into the E.U.—because he felt he may not get another chance. His hometown of Deir ez-Zour, in eastern Syria, is under siege from the militant group known as Islamic State, and he has no intention of going back there. “It’s a one-way trip for me,” he says.

On Saturday, when he arrived at the Hungarian border with Serbia, he knew better than to walk through the gaps in the fence and risk getting caught by the Hungarian police. Under E.U. law, a migrant can only apply for asylum in the E.U. country that first registers his arrival. So most migrants try desperately to avoid being registered by the police before they reach the country where they want to stay.

Alsaho is no exeption. His dream is to make it all the way to Norway—whose citizens are among the wealthiest in Europe— before turning himself in to Norwegian authorities to be registered as an asylum seeker. That meant he would need to travel the length of Europe without getting caught by police. So when night fell over Hungary, he scurried underneath the barbed wire and made a run for it. “It was just me, the forest and the moon,” he says.

But the police were quick to catch him. More than two thousand Hungarian officers have been deployed in recent weeks to help patrol the border with Serbia, and several of them chased Alsaho down and, he says, roughed him up before taking him by bus with other migrants to be registered in a processing camp near the town of Roszke. Arriving there at dawn on Sunday, he stuck his head out of the window of the idling police bus to speak with a reporter. “I’ll be out of here in three days,” he promised in nearly perfect English. “And then I’ll move on.”

That determination was typical of the Syrians at Europe’s doorstep. Their homeland has become an inferno that shows no signs of abating—in four years, half the country has been killed, displaced or forced to flee. Many of them have no homes to which they could return. Even if Hungary’s parliament criminalizes the crossing of its border fence this week and starts putting Syrian migrants in prison, they likely to find another way in, even at the risk of using human traffickers who have little regard for their safety.

Waiting for his smuggler to arrive in the shade of a hackberry tree on Saturday afternoon, al Saleh said he knew of the horrific deaths of 71 migrants whose bodies were discovered inside a refrigerated truck last week in Austria. But the risks of being trafficked across the illegal crossing of a border in Hungary were tame, he added, compared to the dangers he faced in his hometown of Aleppo. With much of that city destroyed amid fighting between the Syrian government and rebel forces, his parents took up a collection among their neighbors and friends so that he could make it to Holland to continue his studies in medical engineering. “They are waiting for me to call,” he says. And no fence is going to stop him.

TIME Syria

ISIS Severely Damages Ancient Temple in Palmyra, Activists Say

Historic Ancient Palmyra Falls Under Control Of IS
Eric Travers—Sipa USA/AP The Temple of Bel in the town of Palmyra, Syria, in a file photo dated Aug. 08, 2001.

ISIS previous said it had blown up Palmyra's 2,000-year-old temple of Baalshamin

(BEIRUT) — Islamic State militants in Syria severely damaged the Bel Temple, considered one of the greatest sites of the ancient world, in a massive explosion Sunday, activists said.

The 2,000-year-old temple was part of the remains of the ancient caravan city of Palmyra in central Syria, seized by IS in May.

The news of the latest destruction at Palmyra came just days after IS released propaganda images purportedly showing militants blowing up another Palmyra temple, the 2,000-year-old Baalshamin dedicated to the Phoenician god of storms and fertilizing rains.

The U.N. cultural agency UNESCO, which has designated Palmyra as a world heritage site, called the destruction of the Baalshamin temple a war crime.

Earlier this month, relatives and witnesses said that IS militants had beheaded Khaled al-Asaad, an 81-year-old antiquities scholar who devoted his life to understanding Palmyra.

The Islamic State group, which has imposed a violent interpretation of Islamic law across its self-declared “caliphate” straddling Syria and Iraq, says such ancient relics promote idolatry.

It already has blown up several sites in neighboring Iraq, and it is also believed to be selling looted antiquities.

A Palmyra resident, who goes by the name of Nasser al-Thaer, said IS militants set off a huge blast at 1:45 p.m. Sunday.

“It is total destruction,” he said of the scene of the explosion. “The bricks and columns are on the ground.”

“It was an explosion the deaf would hear,” he added.

The resident said only the outer wall surrounding the temple remains.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has a network of activists in Syria, said the temple was damaged. It did not provide details.

The temple, consecrated to the Semitic god Bel, had been well-preserved and was a source of much pride for Syrians. It was consecrated in 32 A.D.

It stood out among the ruins not far from the colonnades of Palmyra, which is affectionately known by Syrians as the “Bride of the Desert.”

Earlier Sunday, IS fighters pushed into a large district in southern Damascus, clashing with rival militants just a few kilometers from the center of the Syrian capital, the extremist group and Syrian activists said.

More than two dozen militants were killed in the clashes on the edges of the Qadam neighborhood, said the Observatory.

The pro-IS Aamaq News Agency reported that IS fighters seized half of Qadam. The Observatory’s Rami Abdurrahman said IS fighters were holding two streets and that fighting was continuing.

IS supporters posted propaganda pictures claiming to show IS fighters advancing in the narrow streets of Qadam. The authenticity of the images could not be confirmed independently.

IS has emerged as one of the most powerful forces in the battle to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad. Armed Islamic factions fighting forces loyal to Assad control parts of Damascus and large parts of the city’s suburbs. IS fighters control large parts of the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, east of Qadam.

Also Sunday, a mortar round hit an upscale neighborhood of central Damascus, killing four people, including a girl, Syrian state TV said.

It is not uncommon for Damascus to be shelled. Sunday’s attack targeted the posh neighborhood of Abu Rummaneh, which houses hotels and several embassies.

An Associated Press reporter on the scene saw two people wounded by shrapnel. Vehicles in the area were also damaged.

TIME Syria

See ISIS’s Destruction of the Ancient City Palmyra

The Roman-era temple of Baalshamin, located in Syria, was destroyed on Sunday, a month after the group's militants booby-trapped it with explosives. The U.N. cultural agency UNESCO on Monday called the destruction of the temple a war crime

TIME Syria

ISIS Said to Destroy Ancient Temple in Palmyra

Days after beheading an elderly antiquities scholar

BEIRUT — Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) militants have destroyed a temple at Syria’s ancient ruins of Palmyra, activists said Sunday, realizing the worst fears archaeologists had for the 2,000-year-old Roman-era city after the extremists seized it and beheaded a local scholar.

Palmyra, one of the Middle East’s most spectacular archaeological sites and a UNESCO World Heritage site, sits near the modern Syrian city of the same name. Activists said the militants used explosives to blow up the Baalshamin Temple on its grounds, the blast so powerful it also damaged some of the Roman columns around it.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday night that the temple was blown up a month ago. Turkey-based activist Osama al-Khatib, who is originally from Palmyra, said the temple was blown up Sunday. Both said the extremists used a large amount of explosives to destroy it.

Both activists relied on information for those still in Palmyra and the discrepancy in their accounts could not be immediately reconciled, though such contradictory information is common in Syria’s long civil war.

The fate of the nearby Temple of Bel, dedicated to the Semitic god Bel, was not immediately known. ISIS group supporters on social media also did not immediately mention the temple’s destruction.

The Sunni extremists, who have imposed a violent interpretation of Islamic law across their self-declared “caliphate” in territory they control in Syria and Iraq, claim ancient relics promote idolatry and say they are destroying them as part of their purge of paganism. However, they are also believed to sell off looted antiquities, bringing in significant sums of cash.

Al-Khatib said the Baalshamin Temple is about 500 meters (550 yards) from the Palmyra’s famous amphitheater where the group killed more than 20 Syrian soldiers after they captured the historic town in May.

The temple dates to the first century and is dedicated to the Phoenician god of storms and fertilizing rains.

The head of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, said Friday that Islamic State extremists in Syria and Iraq are engaged in the “most brutal, systematic” destruction of ancient sites since World War II — a stark warning that came hours after militants demolished the St. Elian Monastery, which housed a fifth-century tomb and served as a major pilgrimage site. The monastery was in the town of Qaryatain in central Syria.

News of the temples destruction comes after relatives and witnesses said Wednesday that Khaled al-Asaad, an 81-year-old antiquities scholar who devoted his life to understanding Palmyra, was beheaded by ISIS militants, his bloodied body hung on a pole. He even had named his daughter after Zenobia, the queen that ruled from the city 1,700 years ago.

Meanwhile in Iraq, at least 23 soldiers and government-allied militiamen were killed Sunday in an attack by ISIS militants in the turbulent Anbar province west of Baghdad, Iraqi military and police officials said, in the second heavy death toll suffered by the Iraqi military and its allies in recent days in the vast Sunni region.

The officials said Sunday’s attack, which killed 17 soldiers and six Sunni militia fighters, took place in the rural district of Jaramshah, north of Anbar’s provincial capital, Ramadi.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists.

They said the ISIS fighters used suicide bombings and mortar shells and that chief of army operations in Anbar, Maj-Gen. Qassim al-Dulaimi, was lightly wounded in the attack.

News of Sunday’s attack came two days after up to 50 soldiers were killed by ISIS in two ambushes elsewhere in Anbar province, much of which is under militant control, including Ramadi and the key city of Fallujah.

Government forces and allied Sunni and Shiite militiamen have been battling ISIS militants in Anbar for months, but, hampered by suicide bombings and booby-trapped buildings, they have only made modest gains.

___

Associated Press writers Hamza Hendawi and Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad contributed to this report.

TIME Syria

ISIS Beheads Leading Syrian Antiquities Scholar in Palmyra

ML Islamic State
Uncredited—AP This file photo released on May 17, 2015, by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows the general view of the ancient Roman city of Palmyra, northeast of Damascus, Syria

ISIS reportedly beheaded 81-year-old Khaled Asaad on Tuesday

(DAMASCUS, Syria) — Islamic State militants beheaded one of Syria’s most prominent antiquities scholars in the ancient town of Palmyra, then hung his body from one of the town’s Roman columns, Syrian state media and an activist group said Wednesday.

The killing of 81-year-old Khaled al-Asaad was the latest atrocity perpetrated by the militant group, which has captured a third of both Syria and neighboring Iraq and declared a self-styled “caliphate” on the territory it controls.

Since IS overran Palmyra in May, there have been fears the extremists, who have destroyed famed archaeological sites in Iraq, would demolish the 2,000-year-old Roman-era city at the edge of the town — a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the Mideast’s most spectacular archaeological sites.

The Sunni extremist group, which has imposed a violent interpretation of Islamic law, or Shariah, believes ancient relics promote idolatry. IS militants claim they are destroying ancient artifacts and archaeological treasures as part of their purge of paganism. The destruction IS has wreaked adds to the wider, extensive damage it has inflicted on ancient sites, including mosques and churches across Syria and Iraq.

According to Syrian state news agency SANA and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, al-Assad was beheaded on Tuesday in a square outside the town’s museum. The Observatory, which has a network of activists on the ground in Syria, said dozens of people gathered to witness the killing. Al-Asaad had been held by the IS for about a month, it added.

His body was then taken to Palmyra’s archaeological site and hung from one of the Roman columns, Maamoun Abdulkarim, the head of the Antiquities and Museums Department in Damascus, told SANA.

Al-Asaad was “one of the most important pioneers in Syrian archaeology in the 20th century,” Abdulkarim said. IS had tried to extract information from him about where some of the town’s treasures had been hidden to save them from the militants, the antiquities chief also said.

SANA said al-Asaad had been in charge of Palmyra’s archaeological site for four decades until 2003, when he retired. After retiring, al-Asaad worked as an expert with the Antiquities and Museums Department.

Al-Asaad, who held a diploma in history and education from the University of Damascus, wrote many books and scientific texts either individually or in cooperation with other Syrian or foreign archeologists, SANA said. Among his titles are “The Palmyra sculptures,” and “Zenobia, the Queen of Palmyra and the Orient.”

He also discovered several ancient cemeteries, caves and the Byzantine cemetery in the garden of the Museum of Palmyra, the agency added.

“Al-Asaad was a treasure for Syria and the world,” Khalil Hariri from Palmyra’s archaeological department told The Associated Press, speaking over the phone from the central Syrian city of Homs. “Why did they kill him?”

“Their systematic campaign seeks to take us back into pre-history,” he added. “But they will not succeed.”

Since falling to IS, Palmyra’s ancient site has remained intact but the militants destroyed a lion statue in the town dating back to the 2nd century. The statue, discovered in 1975, had stood at the gates of the town museum, and had been placed inside a metal box to protect it from damage.

In early July, IS released a video showing the killing of some 20 captured government soldiers in Palmyra’s amphitheater. They were shot dead by young IS members, armed with pistols. Hundreds of people were seen watching the killings.

___

Mroue reported from Beirut.

 

TIME Syria

Government Air Raids Kill Dozens Near Syrian Capital

Mideast Syria government warplane bombing
Ariha Today/AP Syrian citizens look for survivors after a government warplane crashed in the center of the town of Ariha, in the northwestern province of Idlib, Syria on Aug. 3, 2015.

Syrian government air raids on rebel-held areas have killed thousands over the past few years

(BEIRUT) — Syrian government warplanes attacked a busy market in a rebel-held suburb of the capital Damascus on Sunday, killing at least 67 people and wounding more than 200 in one of the deadliest single incidents involving government airstrikes since the crisis began nearly five years ago, activist said.

Syrian government air raids on rebel-held areas throughout the country have killed thousands over the past few years.

The air raids on the market in Douma occurred during rush hour when people were out shopping on the first working day of the week in Syria, the activists said.

Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said four missiles were fired at the market, killing 70 and wounding more than 200 hundred. He said the death toll is expected to rise because many of the wounded are in critical condition.

The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, said the air raids killed 67 and wounded 200, adding that rescue workers are digging through the rubble in search of survivors.

“The situation is catastrophic,” a Douma-based activist who goes by the name of Mazen al-Shami told The Associated Press via Skype. He said clinics in the area are full and many of the wounded are being rushed in civilian cars to other medical facilities since ambulances are overwhelmed.

Al-Shami said mosque loudspeakers are issuing calls for residents to donate all types of blood. He added that hundreds of people were in the busy market when the first missile struck the area, inflicting heavy casualties.

Syria’s civil war, now in its 5th year, has killed more than 250,000 people and wounded at least a million.

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