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Last Updated: Friday, 15 February 2008, 20:13 GMT
World's 'oldest' person in Israel
By Martin Patience
BBC News, Jisr az-Zarqa

Mariam Amash, 15 February 2008
Mariam Amash views the world's 'oldest' woman as a youngster
With an arm wrapped round her great- great-granddaughter, Mariam Amash bathes the latest addition to her family.

She offers Islamic blessings for the week-old baby - a traditional Arabic custom.

It is a ritual that Mrs Amash has performed many times in her life.

According to Mrs Amash, she was born 120 years ago - a claim, if confirmed, that would make her the oldest person in the world.

The Guinness Book of Records currently lists 114-year-old Edna Parker of Shelbyville, Indiana, as holding the title.

But Mrs Amash - who lives in the predominantly Arab town of Jisr az-Zarqa in northern Israel - views her rival as a relative youngster.

Huge family

"Yes, I am the oldest person in the world," she says, her family crowding around her.

"I eat, I drink, and I take showers. I hope to keep going for another 10 years."

Mrs Amash has 10 children, 120 grandchildren, 250 great-grandchildren, and 30 great-great-grandchildren, according to relatives.

The discovery that she may be the oldest person in the world came by chance when she applied for a new Israeli identity card.

They (younger generations) drink too much Arak
Mariam Amash

The Israeli authorities say they issued the identity card based on a birth document issued by the Ottoman authorities who ruled the region at the time.

Mrs Amash, of Bedouin descent, says that the secret to her longevity is a healthy diet - she eats lots of vegetables.

For all her years, she is remarkably sprightly.

A devout Muslim, Mrs Amash has made five pilgrimages to Mecca, the last trip in 1990, relatives say.

Long-term memory

"She rises every morning around five for prayers," says one of her grandsons, Majid Amash, 46, an engineer.

"She then goes for a walk and then spends most of her day with the family. She recognises all of us."

But, he adds, her grandmother's long-term memory is fuzzy.

For her part, Mrs Amash has one piece of cautionary advice for younger generations.

"They drink too much Arak (an Arabic alcoholic drink)," she says.

In order for Mrs Amash to be officially declared the oldest person in the World she must submit documentation to the Guinness Book of Records.

A spokesman in London for the publication says the family has yet to do that.

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