Macron urges Putin to help end civilian suffering in Syria

French President Emmanuel Macron. (Reuters)
Updated 10 February 2018
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Macron urges Putin to help end civilian suffering in Syria

JEDDAH: French President Emmanuel Macron urged his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Friday to help ease civilian suffering caused by Syrian regime attacks on opposition positions.
In a telephone call, the French leader “asked Vladimir Putin to do everything so that the Syrian regime puts an end to the unbearable deterioration in the humanitarian situation in Eastern Ghouta and Idlib,” a statement said.
The opposition blamed Moscow, President Bashar Assad’s most powerful ally, for playing a dubious role. “There are parties in the Syrian conflict that are not interested in finding any solution or any decrease in tensions. Russia has taken the UN Security Council hostage without permitting any sort of penalty or punishment for the regime or stoppage of its violent raids,” Yahya Al-Aridi, opposition spokesman, told Arab News.
Russia, he said, is participating with its jets in attacks on markets and hospitals where civilians are being killed in their hundreds. “What we can do is once again call on the international community to stand up to the implementation of UN resolutions and stop aggressors from carrying out such brutal acts against civilians.” 
Russia has intervened alongside Syrian regime forces in the civil war and Putin is seen as the foreign leader with the most influence over Assad. Fresh airstrikes hit the opposition enclave of Eastern Ghouta on Friday, AFP correspondents reported, the fifth straight day in a bombing campaign that has killed more than 220 civilians.
Macron added that he was “worried about indications suggesting the possible use of chlorine on several occasions against the civilian population in Syria these last few weeks.”
Al-Aridi said: “With the situation turning into an international case, all sorts of conflicting interests are being settled in the Syrian arena. Russia is angry with the US. They just use the Syrian arena to settle such accounts with no attention being paid to civilians.”
Diplomacy is making no progress toward ending a war that is approaching its eighth year, having killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced half the pre-war Syrian population of 23 million from their homes, with millions forced out as refugees.
“We are very worried. The airstrikes need to end,” French Defense Minister Florence Parly said on France Inter radio. “Civilians are the targets, in Idlib and in the east of Damascus. This fighting is absolutely unacceptable.”
Russia said on Thursday a cease-fire was unrealistic. The UN called on Tuesday for a humanitarian truce of at least one month to allow for aid deliveries and evacuations of the wounded.
In the north-western province of Idlib, Daesh terrorists clashed with Syrian insurgent factions on Friday, an opposition commander said, accusing pro-regime forces of opening a corridor for the radical militants to reach the region.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime forces had allowed the Daesh fighters to leave a besieged pocket of territory at the intersection of Aleppo, Idlib and Hama provinces, and to go to southern Idlib.
Al-Aridi said: “We believe that the coordination between Daesh and regime forces has been going on for a long time.” 
He cited the example of Palmyra which was first taken by Daesh and then given back to the regime. 
“Many a time, Daesh fighters have been given protection or corridors by the regime to attack the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and civilians. This is done in order to reduce the degree of attention on the regime’s crimes, he said. “In Idlib too, the regime has opened a corridor in order to put the FSA face to face with Daesh and let the Daesh fighter do all sorts of atrocities against civilians.” 
Hasan Hajj Ali, commander of the Free Idlib Army, said his fighters were taking part in clashes with some 200 Daesh terrorists who had arrived in southern Idlib early on Friday.
“This morning at dawn we were surprised by the joint treachery by the regime and Daesh,” he told Reuters. 
Al-Aridi said the opposition has been calling on the UN to stop the carnage in Eastern Ghouta. “The Syrian Negotiation Commission (SNC) had a meeting with Staffan de Mistura, UN special envoy (for Syria), on Feb. 7 where the issue was discussed and the Security Council will also be updated next week,” he said. “But every minute counts in Syria and Syrian time is blood.”


Morocco inaugurates Africa’s fastest train

Updated 15 November 2018
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Morocco inaugurates Africa’s fastest train

  • King Mohammed VI and French President Emmanuel Macron boarded the train for the inaugural trip from Tangier to the capital Rabat
  • The high-speed line was completed at a total cost of 22.9 billion dirhams ($2.4 billion)

RABAT: Morocco inaugurated on Thursday Africa’s fastest train which will halve traveling time between the commercial and industrial hubs of Casablanca and Tangier.
After seven years of work on the high-speed railway line, King Mohammed VI and French President Emmanuel Macron boarded the train for the inaugural trip from Tangier to the capital Rabat.
The train, which was tested at a speed of 357 km (222 miles)per hour and is planned to run at 320 km (198 miles) per hour, will more than halve the 200 km (124 miles)Casablanca-Tangier journey to around two hours. It is about twice as fast as South Africa’s high-speed Gautrain linking Johannesburg’s international airport to the city’s financial district Sandton.

The high-speed line was completed at a total cost of 22.9 billion dirhams ($2.4 billion), according to state news agency MAP. Transport officials were not immediately available for comment. 51 percent of the project was financed by France, Morocco contributed 28 percent and the remaining 21 percent was provided by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. 
Morocco bought 12 double-decker high-speed-trains from French group Alstom that will be operated by state-owned railway ONCF which expects six million passengers on the new train service annually.
The king named the first line Al Boraq after a mythical winged creature that transported the prophets to the heavens. While the Moroccan government and businesses praised the project as a key achievement in developing the country's infrastructure, the line has sparked controversy for its high cost. Critics say that Morocco should be investing in education and health instead.

Officials have said the project will boost growth in Tangier and help attract more investments to northern Morocco where one of Africa’s largest ports is located.
But critics perceive the project as symbolising a two-speed Morocco further accentuating disparities between territories as vast regions in the south and key cities such as Agadir remain without a basic train service.
A train derailment last month near Kenitra 15 km (10 miles) north of Rabat, which killed seven people and injured 125 others, triggered calls for a better allocation of resources by giving priority to improving safety and infrastructure as well as punctuality of basic railway services.