US and Russia ‘nearing agreement on Syria’s future’

Updated 10 November 2017
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US and Russia ‘nearing agreement on Syria’s future’

WASHINGTON: The US and Russia are nearing an agreement on Syria for how they hope to resolve the Arab country’s civil war once the Daesh group is defeated, officials said.
If clinched, the deal could have been announced by President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin after a meeting in Vietnam, US officials said. But White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday that they won’t hold a formal meeting due to scheduling conflicts on “both sides.”
Still, Sanders said it was possible Trump and Putin could have a less formal encounter while in Vietnam. The US has been reluctant to hold a formal meeting between the leaders unless they have a substantive agreement to announce.
The potential understanding comes as an array of forces are near a final defeat of Daesh, the extremist group that once controlled vast stretches of both Iraq and Syria. Fighting the group is no longer top priority, shifting the focus back to Syria’s intractable conflict between President Bashar Assad’s regime and the opposition — and to concerns that foreign powers such as Iran will now dominate the country’s future.
The US-Russian agreement being discussed would focus on three elements, officials said: “deconfliction” between the US and Russian militaries, reducing violence in the civil war and reinvigorating UN-led peace talks. The officials were not authorized to discuss the deliberations and requested anonymity.
The US and Russian militaries have maintained a “deconfliction” hotline for years to avoid unintended collisions and even potential confrontations as they each operate in Syria’s crowded skies. A heavy air campaign by Russia has been credited with shoring up the position of Assad, a close ally of Moscow.
With Daesh nearing defeat, the US and Russia are losing their common enemy in Syria and will remain in a proxy battle in which Russia backs Assad and the US lends at least rhetorical support to armed opposition groups fighting the government. That has increased the need for close communication between the two powers about where their forces are operating at any given time, officials said.
The agreement also seeks to build on progress in establishing “de-escalation zones” in Syria that have calmed some parts of the country. In July, when Trump held his first meeting with Putin in Germany, the US and Russia announced a deal that included Jordan and established a cease-fire in southwest Syria. The US has said that cease-fire has largely held and could be replicated elsewhere in the country.
A key US concern, shared by close ally Israel, is the presence of Iranian-backed militias in Syria that have exploited the vacuum of power. The US and Israel have been seeking ways to prevent forces loyal to Iran from establishing a permanent presence. One idea hinges on a “buffer zone” along Israel’s border with Syria.
A third element of the deal would reaffirm support for the UN effort being run out of Geneva to seek a political transition in Syria and resolve the civil war. The US and Russia have been at odds for years over whether Assad could be allowed to remain in power in a future Syrian government.
The UN talks, which have come in fits and starts without yielding significant progress, aren’t the only discussions about Syria’s future. Russia, Turkey and Iran have been brokering their own process in Astana, Kazakhstan. The US views those talks warily because of Iran’s involvement, though they’ve led to local cease-fire deals that have reduced violence, too.
“We believe that the Geneva process is the right way to go,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Thursday. “Unfortunately, it is a long way off, but we’re getting a little bit closer.”
The US-Russia deal may also seek to expand the mandate of a joint “monitoring center” established this year in Amman, Jordan, to watch for cease-fire violations and other developments on the ground. It has focused on southwest Syria, where the cease-fire is in place, but could be used to monitor broader stretches of the country.
Although Moscow has sought a formal meeting between Trump and Putin while both are in Vietnam this week, the US has not committed to such a meeting. Washington’s concern is that it would not serve US interests unless there’s progress between the countries to announce — on Syria or something else. Putin’s aides have said a meeting will likely occur Friday and that the time, place and format are being worked out between the governments.


Egypt flooding sparks fury

Cars drive through a flooded street after a flash flood affected Cairo, Egypt, on Thursday. EPA
Updated 27 April 2018
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Egypt flooding sparks fury

  • Homes in the Fifth Settlement, one of the capital’s most affluent districts, were flooded on Tuesday and Wednesday
  • The public reacted angrily to what they regarded as incompetent management by officials

CAIRO: Extreme weather brought Cairo to a standstill this week with severe flooding that caused buildings to collapse. 

Homes in the Fifth Settlement, one of the capital’s most affluent districts, were flooded on Tuesday and Wednesday and hit by power cuts lasting hours. Motorists on Cairo’s busy ring road were forced to sleep in their cars after being stranded for more than eight hours.

And in Alexandria, Egypt’s second city, a man died when a billboard on the popular coastal promenade blew away and fell on him.

Trains were delayed because of heavy rainfall and the police rescued 30 students from the Hayah International Academy after they fell down a mountain during a trip to the Wadi Degla nature reserve.

The public reacted angrily to what they regarded as incompetent management by officials.

Rain caused extensive damage to Area Ragy’s home in the Fifth Settlement when water poured through the ceiling.

“Everything is ruined in my flat. Home appliances don’t work any more and I don’t know how I’m going to pay for the damage,” said Ragy, a 28-year-old housewife. “I kept calling 122 (the police emergency number) but they did not even answer. Who should I call then when something like that happens? We were stuck with no one to give us any kind of support. No one is telling us anything. People are always on their own.”

The city’s sanitation authority set up a hotline but claimed that it had received no complaints, however residents said that they were unable to reach anyone from the authority because the chief and his deputies had their mobile phones switched off.

Others complained about the lack of equipment to pump water and mud from streets built without storm drains, and posted pictures of themselves stuck in traffic with ankle-deep water inside their cars.

“My kids and I could not get home to Maadi (south Cairo) and had to sleep in our car,” Ahmed Abdel-Latif, a 32-year-old civil engineer, told Arab News. “The kids kept crying and I couldn’t do anything for them. We did not move a meter for two hours, and we are talking here about a wealthy neighborhood that is maybe less than ten years old ... This is how our modern roads look.”

Traffic police commander Abdellah Rashad confirmed that the road from Cairo to Ain Sokhna was also closed for 60 kilometers due to “heavy rain.”

People posted photos of the collapsed ceiling at the relatively new Point 90 mall near the American University as an example of the “weak infrastructure” of the high-priced buildings in the Fifth Settlement.

“The best place for agriculture now is the Fifth Settlement,” said one Facebook post. Another read: “Villas for sale with sea view.” 

In the absence of any help from officials, activists launched their own information-gathering system using the hashtag #Kalak_Kajra_Jadidah (“so this is new Cairo”). 

Mohamed Arfan, the minister of administrative supervision, made a surprise tour of the New Cairo area on Wednesday night and quizzed workers at the electricity station about the reasons for the power cuts. He said that the city had to be better prepared in future to avoid a repeat of the disaster.

Sanitation authority officials have been called in to explain themselves as part of an inquiry into why there was apparently so much negligence.