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Archive for December 23rd, 2009|Daily archive page

Dog meat, vegetables test positive for cholera

In Vietnam Health on December 23, 2009 at 11:35 am

A recent inspection of northern eateries serving dog meat, vegetables and shrimp paste has revealed alarming unhygienic practices and the presence of cholera bacterium in some foods.

Tran Nhu Duong, deputy head of the Hanoi-based National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology, told a seminar December 22 that health inspectors had recently investigated some 30 street eateries selling dog meat in Hanoi.

Twenty-five of the eateries were found operating without a food safety and hygiene certificate; 15 prepared food next to a restroom; 19 used unwashed raw vegetables; and 27 served day-old meat.

More worrying, samples of vegetables, dog meat and shrimp paste taken from restaurants and markets in Hanoi and the northern provinces of Hai Phong, Hai Duong, and Thanh Hoa had tested positive for the Vibrio cholera bacterium, said Duong.

The bacteria, spread through contaminated water or food, causes acute intestinal infection which can lead to death if left untreated.

Although cholera in Vietnam has not been as prevalent this year as in the past, 471 cases have been reported in 15 provinces nationwide with one fatality in the northern province of Ninh Binh, said the Department of Preventive Health and Environment.

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Bringing Christmas to young patients

In Vietnam Health on December 23, 2009 at 11:34 am

The holiday spirit has spread to Ho Chi Minh City hospitals where rooms are decorated in Christmas colors with flying reindeer, pine trees and colorful lights, especially in children’s rooms.

Young patients of the Tumor Hospital’s Internal Medicine Department No.3 receive gifts from Santa Claus.

Volunteers and benefactors dressed up as Santa Claus recently and delivered presents to delighted young patients around the city.

In the Cardiovascular Department of the Children Hospital No.2, a sparkling fairy garden has been set up in the corridor. The garden comes alive at night in an array of dazzling colors, providing a welcome oasis for children and their families.

The Children Hospital No.2 is also working with sponsors to organize a music performance and offer 1,000 gifts to children on December 23, said Dr. Nguyen Thi Hanh Le, deputy director of the hospital.

The Children Hospital No.1 and Department of Internal Medicine No.3 of the Tumor Hospital have been visited by several charity delegations in recent days. Young patients seem to forget their illnesses, distracted by hundreds of gifts, confectionary and playtime with Santa Claus.

Local doctors say strength of spirit plays a very important role in the treatment of cancer patients especially. Joy helps them forget pain, combat disease and enjoy life.

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100 bronze drums being cast for millennial anniversary

In Vietnam Culture on December 23, 2009 at 11:34 am

The casting of 100 bronze drums for the 1,000th anniversary of Thang Long-Hanoi kicked off in Dong Tien Commune, Dong Son District in the northern province of Thanh Hoa on December 22.

One of Dong Son drums. Dong Son drums are found in many provinces nationwide.

The work began with a ceremony held by the Lam Kinh Thanh Hoa Heritage Association in cooperation with the Cultural Heritage Association of Vietnam, Vietnam History Science Association, and Vietnam Young Business Association.

At the ceremony, artisans will use ovens to cast four drums, which are reproductions of the traditional Ngoc Lu, Hoang Ha, Song Da and Quang Xuong drums.

The 100 drums will then be cast by four famous craftsmen in Thanh Hoa Province including Nguyen Minh Tuan, Le Van Bay, Thieu Quang Tung and Dang Ich Hoan using traditional methods.

Ninety-nine of the 100 drums, which will measure 60 centimeters in diameter and 48 centimeters in height, will be cast in Dong Son District, believed to be the home of bronze-drum casting in Vietnam. 

Chairman of the Lam Kinh Thanh Hoa Heritage Association Ho Quang Son said the finished pieces will be decorated with words and dragon patterns.

A final drum will be adorned with 1,000 dragon images and cast in the Hung Temple dedicated to Vietnam’s founders, the Hung Kings on the 10th of the Third Month, 2010 of the lunar calendar.

The 100 bronze drums are expected to be completed on August 15, 2010 and ready for presentation at the 1,000th anniversary of Thang Long – Hanoi.

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First crystal Christmas tree dazzles HCMC

In Vietnam Culture on December 23, 2009 at 11:34 am

The Windsor Plaza Hotel is showcasing Ho Chi Minh City’s first-ever pure crystal Christmas tree to celebrate the coming holidays.

Ho Chi Minh City’s first crystal Christmas tree is on display in the Windsor Plaza Hotel during the holidays (Photo: Courtesy of Windsor Plaza Hotel)

The tree, which measures three meters tall and two meters wide, is made of 10,000 colorful crystal balls. 
It has four tiers of stringed green crystal beads surrounded by ornaments of sparkling red.
Reaching the ceiling, the tree is also topped with a bright red star and is lit from within to create a shimmering mosaic of colors as each gem carries festive reflections across the expanse of the lobby.
A regal display of dazzling jewels creates a vibrant mosaic of light around the tree.

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3 dead as dust storm, snow blast Arizona

In World on December 23, 2009 at 11:34 am

A strong winter storm wreaked havoc in Arizona on Tuesday, leaving at least three people dead and six injured in a series of fiery crashes caused by thick, blowing dust on Interstate 10 and shutting down I-40 for hours with slick conditions. One of the dead was a man whose vehicle was rear-ended by his father’s truck.

The midday I-10 wrecks, about 40 miles south of Phoenix near Casa Grande, left the eastbound lanes littered with the smoldering remains of several big rigs, passenger cars and vans. Both directions of the freeway connecting Tucson to Phoenix were closed for hours as crews freed the injured and dead from the tangled wreckage.

Along 1-40 west of Flagstaff, dozens of cars and trucks were involved in collisions or slid off the highway as snow began falling Tuesday afternoon. A stretch of the highway between Williams and Ash Fork was closed intermittently. Snowy and slippery conditions were also reported on I-17 north of Sedona.

A multiple-vehicle collision caused by blowing dust is seen Tuesday Dec. 22, 2009 on Interstate 10 near Kortsen Road in Casa Grande, Ariz.

The crashes near Casa Grande and a second set a dozen miles further south near Pichaco were triggered by dust kicked up from nearby farm fields. Dust and thick gray smoke from burning vehicles billowed across the flat sprawl of farms and desert.

In all, 22 vehicles were involved in the crashes, including nine commercial trucks. Authorities said six people were taken to Phoenix hospitals with undisclosed injuries, and one other person was treated and released.

Edgar Ivan Medina Vargas of Iowa City, Iowa, was among those killed. He slowed suddenly because of the dust storm, and his pickup truck was struck from behind by his father’s large commercial truck, said Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Bart Graves.

Also killed were a brother and sister in a Jeep, Mark and Katie Eide of Casa Grande. He was 14 and she was 17, Graves said. Authorities say the siblings were headed to a restaurant at Picacho Peak.

The westbound lanes of I-10 were reopened by mid-afternoon, but state engineers will need to inspect the eastbound lanes before allowing traffic to resume, said Officer Robert Bailey, a Department of Public Safety spokesman.

“ADOT engineers have to get out there and examine the pavement and see if it’s OK to be driven on after these fires,” Bailey said.

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UN chief calls for new climate pact push

In World on December 23, 2009 at 11:33 am

UN chief Ban Ki-moon appealed for world powers to make a new effort to secure a legally binding climate deal next year amid new diplomatic wrangling over the failure of the Copenhagen summit.

China hit back at Britain over claims that Beijing had “hijacked” the Copenhagen negotiations while Brazil and Cuba lashed out at the US President Barack Obama.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has appealed for world powers to make a new effort to secure a legally binding climate deal next year amid new diplomatic wrangling over the failure of the Copenhagen summit.

With scientists warning of the growing threat of drought, floods, storms and rising sea levels, Ban acknowledged international disappointment over the summit accord on restraining rising temperatures.

“I am aware that the outcome of the Copenhagen conference, including the Copenhagen Accord, did not go as far as many would have hoped,” Ban told reporters in New York.

“Nonetheless they represent a beginning, an essential beginning,” the secretary general added.

Ban said “the leaders were united in purpose, but they were not united in action,” and pressed them “to directly engage in achieving a global legally binding climate change treaty in 2010.”

The UN boss said he would set up a high-level panel on development and climate change in 2010 ahead of attempts for a new deal at a summit in Mexico City in December next year.

The leaders of the United States, China, India, Brazil, South Africa and major European nations assembled the last-minute Copenhagen accord, as it became clear the 194-nation summit was heading for failure.

They promised 100 billion dollars for poor nations that risk bearing the brunt of the global warming fallout and set a commitment to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

The outcome has been widely criticised, with recriminations among many of the participants.

China on Tuesday accused Britain of “fomenting discord” among developing countries after Britain’s climate change minister Ed Miliband said China had blocked a deal in Copenhagen.

Miliband wrote in a newspaper article that China vetoed attempts to give legal force to the accord reached at the summit and that it had blocked an agreement on reductions in global emissions.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said “such an attack was made in order to shirk the obligations of developed countries to their developing counterparts and foment discord among developing countries.”

She told the state Xinhua news agency “the attempt was doomed to fail.”

Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva blamed the United States for the talks’ failure, saying Obama was not prepared to make sufficient emissions cuts.

“The United States is proposing a reduction of four percent from the date fixed by the Kyoto Protocol (1990). That is too little,” Lula said on his weekly radio programme.

This led other countries to avoid their “commitments to the objectives (of reducing carbon dioxide emissions) and financial commitments,” Lula added.

Brazil pledged voluntary carbon emission cuts of 36-39 percent based on projected 2020 output and urged rich countries to help poorer countries.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez accused Obama of being “arrogant” at the summit, while Britain had been the “executioner” for the United States.

“During the summit, there was just an imperial, arrogant Obama who doesn’t listen, who imposes and threatens developing countries,” the minister told a press conference.

Rodriguez added that “the British delegation played the role of the executioner” using attempts at “shameful blackmail” against developing countries.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Monday accused a handful of unnamed countries of taking the summit hostage.

India weighed into the dispute with its government hailing the lack of targets and legally binding measures and vaunting the united front presented with China, Brazil and South Africa.

Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh told parliament India had “come out quite well in Copenhagen”.

He listed a series of accomplishments, including the thwarting of moves to impose binding targets for global reductions in carbon emissions — something India has always rejected.

“We can be satisfied that we were able to get our way on this issue,” Ramesh told lawmakers.

Bangladesh, one of the nations most vulnerable to global warming, said meanwhile that it will seek 15 percent of the first 30 billion dollars committed at the Copenhagen summit.


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OPEC warns of weak recovery for oil market

In World on December 23, 2009 at 11:33 am

The OPEC oil producers’ cartel warned of lingering weakness in the world economy and held its emergency crude output quotas unchanged at its meeting in Angola on Tuesday.

Delegates at the meeting also said that growing output from Iraq’s recovering oilfields, which observers say will become a major concern for its fellow producers, was unlikely to have an impact for several years.

Tuesday’s meeting capped a year of recovery for oil prices, which have more than doubled since quotas were cut a year ago to stabilise the market during the economic crisis that crippled demand for petroleum products.

Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi, representing the cartel’s most influential member, said crude price levels, which have been hovering around 75 dollars, were “perfect.”

Jose Maria Botelho de Vasconcelos, President of the OPEC Conference and Angolan Minister of Petroleum

But the powerful grouping of Middle Eastern, African and Latin American oil countries in a statement expressed “great concern” for the world economic outlook, which threatens to weaken demand for their key exports.

“Although asset market prices have rebounded and economic growth has resumed in some parts of the world, it is not yet clear how strong or durable the recovery might be,” they said in a joint communique.

“With the world still faced by shrinking industrial production, low private consumption and high unemployment, the conference once again decided to maintain current oil production levels unchanged for the time being.”

Observers had said ministers at the meeting would have one eye on Iraq’s recovering oil industry and its ambitious plans to ramp up its production to levels that could rival Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil producer.

But Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani and others played down the prospect of a surge from Iraq’s oilfields, saying the question of quotas for Iraq was unlikely to be tackled in the immediate future.

The cartel’s Secretary General Abdullah El-Badri told reporters after the meeting: “I don’t expect any production increase (by Iraq) before five or six years,” but added that one day, “I am sure we will accommodate Iraq.”

Iraq is currently exempt from the cartel’s system of quotas, but recently signed contracts with several foreign companies to start pumping crude oil, aiming to expand the industry as it recovers from war.

A consortium led by top Chinese oil company CNPC initialled another deal with Iraq on Tuesday, to develop the Halfaya oil field in southern Iraq, oil ministry spokesman Assem Jihad said.

OPEC members called for higher compliance with the quotas. The group’s current president, Angolan Oil Minister Jose Botelho de Vasconcelos, said even non-OPEC countries should play their part to “balance the market.”

Tuesday’s OPEC meeting was the first to be hosted by Angola. The country joined OPEC in 2007 and has overtaken Nigeria as Africa’s biggest crude producer, according to the International Energy Agency, but it still suffers from three decades of civil war that ended seven years ago.

The 12-member group is next due to meet on March 17, when the presidency will have been taken over by Ecuador.

Oil prices fell slightly on Tuesday after the OPEC members’ decision. New York’s main futures contract, light sweet crude for delivery in February, fell 32 cents to 73.40 dollars a barrel.

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US says copyright piracy in China still ‘high’

In World on December 23, 2009 at 11:32 am

 Copyright piracy in China remains at “unacceptably high levels,” causing “serious harm” to American businesses, the top US trade official said in an annual report to US Congress.

US Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in the mandatory report on China’s compliance with its World Trade Organization accession obligations that Beijing was not taking adequate steps to enforce intellectual property rights laws.

He said enforcement of China’s copyright protection “remains a significant challenge.”

The report cited other “priority” trade issues such as industrial policies, trading rights and distribution services, agriculture and services, but indicated piracy is a key issue where China has made little progress.

“Despite repeated anti-piracy campaigns in China and an increasing number of civil IPR (intellectual property rights) cases in Chinese courts, counterfeiting and piracy remain at unacceptably high levels and continue to cause serious harm to US businesses across many sectors of the economy,” the 121-page report said.

File photo shows a vendor selling fake winter jackets at a market in Beijing.

The US copyright industries estimate that losses in 2008 due to piracy were about 3.5 billion dollars for the music recording and software industries alone, it said.

“These figures indicate little or no overall improvement over the previous year.”

China is among nations in the annual intellectual property rights blacklist of the US Trade Representative’s office.

China acceded to the World Trade Organization eight years ago. The terms of its accession called for China to implement numerous specific commitments over time.

All of China’s key commitments should have been phased in three years ago.

Kirk’s report said that while China had put in place laws aimed at protecting intellectual property rights as required by the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights or the TRIPS Agreement, “some critical reforms are still needed in a few areas.”

It cited further improvement of China’s measures for copyright protection on the Internet following China?s accession to the World Intellectual Property Rights Organization (WIPO) Internet treaties, and correction of “continuing deficiencies” in China’s criminal IPR enforcement measures.

The United States obtained a favorable ruling about a year ago from a WTO panel in a case challenging deficiencies in China’s legal regime for protecting and enforcing copyrights and trademarks.

Specifically, in a case in which 12 other WTO members had joined in as third parties, a WTO panel found as inconsistent China’s denial of copyright protection to works that do not meet China’s content review standards as well as China’s handling of border enforcement seizures of counterfeit goods.

The panel also clarified important legal standards relating to China’s criminal enforcement of copyrights and trademarks.

Neither side appealed the panel?s decision, and China subsequently agreed to bring the measures at issue into compliance by March 2010, Kirk’s report said.

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Maine to consider cell phone cancer warning

In World on December 23, 2009 at 11:32 am

A Maine legislator wants to make the state the first to require cell phones to carry warnings that they can cause brain cancer, although there is no consensus among scientists that they do and industry leaders dispute the claim.

The now-ubiquitous devices carry such warnings in some countries, though no U.S. states require them, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. A similar effort is afoot in San Francisco, where Mayor Gavin Newsom wants his city to be the nation’s first to require the warnings.

A traveler who was delayed by the blizzard that struck the East Coast on Saturday makes a cell phone call at Union Station in Washington, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2009.

Maine Rep. Andrea Boland, D-Sanford, said numerous studies point to the cancer risk, and she has persuaded legislative leaders to allow her proposal to come up for discussion during the 2010 session that begins in January, a session usually reserved for emergency and governors’ bills.

Boland herself uses a cell phone, but with a speaker to keep the phone away from her head. She also leaves the phone off unless she’s expecting a call. At issue is radiation emitted by all cell phones.

Under Boland‘s bill, manufacturers would have to put labels on phones and packaging warning of the potential for brain cancer associated with electromagnetic radiation. The warnings would recommend that users, especially children and pregnant women, keep the devices away from their head and body.

The Federal Communications Commission, which maintains that all cell phones sold in the U.S. are safe, has set a standard for the “specific absorption rate” of radiofrequency energy, but it doesn’t require handset makers to divulge radiation levels.

The San Francisco proposal would require the display of the absorption rate level next to each phone in print at least as big as the price. Boland’s bill is not specific about absorption rate levels, but would require a permanent, nonremovable advisory of risk in black type, except for the word “warning,” which would be large and in red letters. It would also include a color graphic of a child’s brain next to the warning.

While there’s little agreement about the health hazards, Boland said Maine’s roughly 950,000 cell phone users among its 1.3 million residents “do not know what the risks are.”

All told, more than 270 million people subscribed to cellular telephone service last year in the United States, an increase from 110 million in 2000, according to CTIA-The Wireless Association. The industry group contends the devices are safe.

“With respect to the matter of health effects associated with wireless base stations and the use of wireless devices, CTIA and the wireless industry have always been guided by science, and the views of impartial health organizations. The peer-reviewed scientific evidence has overwhelmingly indicated that wireless devices do not pose a public health risk,” said CTIA’s John Walls.

James Keller of Lewiston, whose cell phone serves as his only phone, seemed skeptical about warning labels. He said many things may cause cancer but lack scientific evidence to support that belief. Besides, he said, people can’t live without cell phones.

“It seems a little silly to me, but it’s not going to hurt anyone to have a warning on there. If they’re really concerned about it, go ahead and put a warning on it,” he said outside a sporting good store in Topsham. “It wouldn’t deter me from buying a phone.”

While there’s been no long-term studies on cell phones and cancer, some scientists suggest erring on the side of caution.

Last year, Dr. Ronald B. Herberman, director emeritus of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, sent a memo to about 3,000 faculty and staff members warning of risks based on early, unpublished data. He said that children should use the phones only for emergencies because their brains were still developing and that adults should keep the phone away from the head and use a speakerphone or a wireless headset.

Herberman, who says scientific conclusions often take too long, is one of numerous doctors and researchers who have endorsed an August report by retired electronics engineer L. Lloyd Morgan. The report highlights a study that found significantly increased risk of brain tumors from 10 or more years of cell phone or cordless phone use.

Also, the BioInitiative Working Group, an international group of scientists, notes that many countries have issued warnings and that the European Parliament has passed a resolution calling for governmental action to address concerns over health risks from mobile phone use.

But the National Cancer Institute said studies thus far have turned up mixed and inconsistent results, noting that cell phones did not come into widespread use in the United States until the 1990s.

“Although research has not consistently demonstrated a link between cellular telephone use and cancer, scientists still caution that further surveillance is needed before conclusions can be drawn,” according to the Cancer Institute’s Web site.

Motorola Inc., one of the nation’s major wireless phone makers, says on its Web site that all of its products comply with international safety guidelines for radiofrequency energy exposure.

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First Jesus-era house discovered in Nazareth

In World on December 23, 2009 at 11:31 am

 Just in time for Christmas, archaeologists on Monday unveiled what may have been the home of one of Jesus’ childhood neighbors. The humble dwelling is the first dating to the era of Jesus to be discovered in Nazareth, then a hamlet of around 50 impoverished Jewish families where Jesus spent his boyhood.

Archaeologists and present-day residents of Nazareth imagined Jesus as a youngster, playing with other children in the isolated village, not far from the spot where the Archangel Gabriel revealed to Mary that she would give birth to the boy.

Today the ornate Basilica of the Annunciation marks that spot, and Nazareth is the largest Arab city in northern Israel, with about 65,000 residents. Muslims now outnumber Christians two to one in the noisy, crowded city.

The archaeological find shows how different it was 2000 years ago: There were no Christians or Muslims, the Jewish Temple stood in Jerusalem and tiny Nazareth stood near a battleground between Roman rulers and Jewish guerrillas.

Reverend Jack Karam, left, stands near Israel’s Antiquities Authority workers at the excavation site of the remains of the first dwelling in Nazareth, Israel that can be dated back to the time of Jesus,

The Jews of Nazareth dug camouflaged grottos to hide from Roman invaders, said archaeologist Yardena Alexandre, excavations director at the Israel Antiquities Authority. But the hamlet was so far off the beaten path that the caves were apparently not needed, she said.

Based on clay and chalk shards found at the site, the dwelling appeared to house a “simple Jewish family,” Alexandre added, as workers carefully chipped away at mud with small pickaxes to reveal stone walls.

“This may well have been a place that Jesus and his contemporaries were familiar with,” Alexandre said. A young Jesus may have played around the house with his cousins and friends. “It’s a logical suggestion.”

The discovery so close to Christmas pleased local Christians.

“They say if the people do not speak, the stones will speak,” said the Rev. Jack Karam of the nearby basilica.

Archaeologist Stephen Pfann, president of the University of The Holy Land, noted: “It’s the only witness that we have from that area that shows us what the walls and floors were like inside Nazareth in the first century.” Pfann was not involved in the dig.

Alexandre said workers uncovered the first signs of the dwelling last summer, but it became clear only this month that it was a structure from the days of Jesus.

Alexandre’s team found remains of a wall, a hideout, a courtyard and a water system that appeared to collect water from the roof and supply it to the home. The discovery was made when builders dug up the courtyard of a former convent to make room for a new Christian center, just yards from the Basilica.

It is not clear how big the dwelling is. Alexandre’s team has uncovered about 900 square feet of the house, but it may have been for an extended family and could be much larger, she said.

Archaeologists also found a camouflaged entry way into a grotto, which Alexandre believes was used by Jews to hide from Roman soldiers who were battling Jewish rebels for control of the area.

The grotto could have hidden around six people for a few hours, she said.

However, Roman soldiers did not end up battling Nazareth’s Jews because the hamlet had little strategic value. The Roman army was more interested in larger towns and strategic hilltop communities, she said.

Alexandre said similar camouflaged grottos were found in other ancient Jewish communities of the lower Galilee, such as the nearby biblical village of Cana, which did witness battles between Jews and Romans.

Archaeologists also found clay and chalk vessels likely used by Galilean Jews of the time. The scientists concluded a Jewish family lived there because of the chalk, which Jews used to ensure the ritual purity of the food and water kept inside the vessels.

The shards also date back to the time of Jesus, which includes the late Hellenic, early Roman period that ranges from around 100 B.C. to the first century, Alexandre said. The determination was made by comparing the findings to shards and remains typical of that period found in other parts of the Galilee, she said.

The absence of any remains of glass vessels or imported products suggested the people who lived in the dwelling were simple, but Alexandre said the remains did not indicate whether they were traders or farmers.

The only other artifacts from the time of Jesus found in the Nazareth area are ancient burial caves that provided a rough idea of the village’s population at the time, Alexandre said.

Work is now taking place to clear newer ruins built above the dwelling, which will be preserved. The dwelling will become part of a new international Christian center being built close to the site and funded by a French Roman Catholic group, said Marc Hodara of the Chemin Neuf Community overseeing construction.

Alexandre said limited space and population density makes it unlikely that archaeologists can carry out further excavations in the area, leaving this dwelling to tell the story of what Jesus’ boyhood home may have looked like.

The discovery at “this time, this period, is very interesting, especially as a Christian,” Karam said. “For me it is a great gift.”

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