US and UN slam heinous attacks in Aleppo

A Syrian civil defense volunteer, known as the White Helmets, carries an injured man on Saturday following a reported air strike on Aleppo's rebel-held neighborhood of Bab al-Nayrab. (AFP / AMEER ALHALBI)
Updated 20 November 2016
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US and UN slam heinous attacks in Aleppo

LIMA, Peru: US National Security Adviser Susan Rice condemned “heinous” bombings of hospitals in rebel-held eastern Aleppo Saturday, and top UN officials said they were “appalled” by the escalating violence.

Rice warned the Assad regime and its Russian backers they are responsible for immediate and long-term consequences.

“The United States condemns in the strongest terms these horrific attacks against medical infrastructure and humanitarian aid workers. There is no excuse for these heinous actions,” Rice said in a statement.

“The Syrian regime and its allies, Russia in particular, bears responsibly for the immediate and long term consequences these actions have caused in Syria and beyond.”

Rice indicated that the US government would use a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders in Peru to put pressure on Russia. President Vladimir Putin is attending the event.

“The United States again joins our partners, many of them gathering in Peru this weekend, in demanding the immediate cessation of these bombardments and calling on Russia to immediately deescalate violence and facilitate humanitarian aid and access for the Syrian people,” said Rice.


Extremely saddened

In a separate statement, UN officials urged immediate access to Aleppo, where government forces are waging a ferocious assault to retake rebel-held districts.

“The United Nations is extremely saddened and appalled by the recent escalation in fighting in several parts of Syria,” the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Syria Ali Al-Za’atari and regional humanitarian coordinator Kevin Kennedy said.

They called on “all parties to cease indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure.”

The comments came as government bombardment rocked rebel-held east Aleppo, where more than 250,000 people are living under regime siege.

The bombardment, which began on Tuesday, has killed nearly 100 people, according to a monitor, and forced hospitals and schools to close.

Za’atari, the most senior UN official based in Damascus, and Kennedy said the organization had a plan to provide east Aleppo with assistance.

“The UN has shared with all parties to the conflict in Aleppo and member states concerned a detailed humanitarian plan to provide urgently needed assistance to the inhabitants of east Aleppo, and conduct medical evacuations for the ill and injured,” they said.

“It is imperative all parties agree to the plan and allow us to secure immediate, safe and unimpeded access to provide relief to those most in need in east Aleppo, but equally in all other parts of Syria where there are people in need.”

The UN has not accessed east Aleppo since government forces surrounded the rebel-held side of the city in mid-July.

Moscow has organized several brief truces intended to encourage civilians and surrendering rebels to leave east Aleppo, but few have done so, and the UN has said it was unable to organize secure aid deliveries or evacuations within such short windows.

Russia is a key ally of the government in Damascus and has waged a military campaign to bolster President Bashar Assad’s government against rebels.

Moscow says it is not currently bombing Aleppo, though earlier this week it announced a “major operation” in neighboring Idlib province, as well as in central Homs province.

More than 300,000 people have been killed since Syria’s conflict began in March 2011, with anti-government protests.


‘We have long reached for the stars’: Arab history in space exploration

Updated 53 min 44 sec ago
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‘We have long reached for the stars’: Arab history in space exploration

  • On June 17, 1985, Saudi Prince Sultan entered the history books when he journeyed into space from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida
  • As the world celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo landing, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are spearheading a new era of Arab space exploration

Arab astronauts may not have set foot on the moon, but an Arab geographer left his mark on the Earth’s natural satellite as long ago as 1935.

A lunar impact crater 65 km in diameter was named AbulFeda by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in honor of Isma’il Ibn Abu Al-Fida, a prince of the Ayyubid dynasty who lived between 1273 and 1331 in Syria.

The IAU was founded in 1919 to promote the science of astronomy and pay homage to major contributors in the field. AbulFeda is just one of 11 lunar craters named after luminaries from the golden age of Islamic civilization, which lasted from the mid-7th century to the 13th century.

In all, 24 lunar craters have been named after individuals from the region, including Abbas Ibn Firnas (810-887), an Andalusian inventor, physician, musician, engineer, humanitarian and poet — and the first man to fly. According to a 9th century poem, the so-called Leonardo da Vinci of the Muslim world “flew faster than the phoenix in his flight.”

Ibn Firnas was 65 when he became the world’s first hang-glider, jumping off the side of a mountain with feathers attached to his body and “touching the sky for a few minutes,” according to historical accounts.

Centuries later, in February, 1976, a meeting between the-then president of the UAE Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan and three US astronauts changed the course of a man’s life and fired the imagination of a young nation. A year earlier, the astronauts had taken part in the historic docking of an Apollo command/service module and a Soviet Soyuz 19 capsule as part of the first joint US–Soviet space flight.

A black-and-white photograph of the meeting, which can be seen at the operational air force squadron in Abu Dhabi, made a great impression on a young Emirati pilot, Hazza Al-Mansouri.

“I would look at the photo and imagine retaking it with three Emirati astronauts sitting with the founding father,” he said later.

Now 31-year-old Al-Mansouri, the UAE’s first astronaut, will also make history when he joins a mission to the International Space Station in September.

“It is a great honor to be represent the UAE in space, and to make my dream and the dream of a nation come true,” he told Arab News.

The astronaut plans to take personal items with him into space, including a seed of his country’s national tree, Al-Ghaf, and his traditional Emirati outfit.

The photograph of Sheikh Zayed and the US astronauts was not the only image that fired Al-Mansouri’s imagination. Inside his fourth-grade school book was a color photo of Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, the first Arab and royal to travel into space.

On June 17, 1985, Prince Sultan, a Saudi air force fighter pilot, lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on board the space shuttle Discovery. During the seven-day mission, he helped to deploy a satellite for the Arab Satellite Communications Organization (Arabsat).

Prince Sultan became a hero and an icon across the region. “We have long reached the stars and beyond,” he said.

Two years later, on July 22, 1987, Muhammed Faris, a Syrian military aviator, became the first Syrian and the second Arab in space, carrying a vial soil from Damascus on his journey from Earth.

Faris, who now lives in Turkey as a refugee, struck a responsive chord with many when he later told an interviewer: “When you go up there, you realize there are no borders, no countries, no nationalities. Just Earth. Mother Earth. We should protect this Earth. Who hurts their mother?”

The 1980s was a decade of expansion, exploration and transformation in the Middle East. Now, 30 years later, that energy has returned.

As the third Arab country (after Saudi Arabia and Syria) to send a man into space, the UAE has a special relationship with space and the moon.
In a corner of the Al-Ain national museum is “a piece of the moon” gifted to Sheikh Zayed by the three US astronauts.

“This fragment is a portion of a rock from the Valley of Taurus-Littrow. It is given as a symbol of the unity of human endeavor and carries with it the hope of the American people for a world at peace,” says the plaque describing the object.

Next to it, is a small, well-traveled UAE flag.

“This flag of your nation was carried to the moon aboard spacecraft America during the Apollo XVII mission, Dec. 7 to 19, 1972. Presented to the people of the UAE from the people of the United States of America, Richard Nixon 1973.”

As the world celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, the UAE is looking forward to the launch of Al-Amal, or Hope, in 2021 to mark the 50th anniversary of the country’s foundation. The spacecraft will orbit Mars, which has an area of contrasting brightness and darkness that was named Arabia Terra in 1979 for its resemblance to the Arabian Peninsula.

“The moon landing was a pivotal moment in human history,” Salem Humaid Al-Marri, assistant director general for science and technology at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center, told Arab News.

“It was when something we imagined became a reality, and humanity left this planet. It was the result of science, engineering, mathematics and imagination coming together.”

“Space makes people dream the impossible,” said Al-Marri.

The words uttered by Neil Armstrong when he became the first man to step on to the lunar surface, on July 20, 1969 — “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” — have become part of history.

“It was such a powerful statement that influenced so many who watched the original landing as well as those from the current generation who watched it on the Internet or TV,” said Al-Marri. “There isn’t anyone who hasn’t see the moon landing somewhere.”

The space era began as a “race” between the superpowers that helped to break new ground.

“The race pushed space industry development to new levels. While it was driven by military involvement, the benefits from the technological advances were for all people,” said Al-Marri. “We have better satellites, as well as a better understanding of our planet and the world around it, as a result.”

However, after the 1969 moon landing, strained budgets and depleted resources forced the space industry to abandon competition and embrace cooperation.

“Space today is all about cooperating to reach new heights. If you want to fly into space now, you have to do so on a Russian spacecraft as the Americans retired their shuttles in 2011,” Al-Marri said.

Al-Mansouri will head into space together with a US and a Russian astronaut, symbolizing a new era of Arab participation in space exploration.

“The UAE is working with the Saudi space program, as well as with others such as Algeria, Egypt, Kuwait and Bahrain, to boost the Arab presence in the space industry,” said Al-Marri.

“Space is bringing Arab nations together.”

In the broad sweep of history, these space programs are building on the contributions of the Islamic civilization that shaped the modern world — and honoring the memory of scientists and explorers such as Abu Al-Fida and Ibn Firnas.