Assad regime accused of ‘apocalypse’ as forces tighten noose around opposition enclave in Ghouta

Syrian child Hossam Hawari, 8, is treated from a shrapnel wound at a makeshift clinic in Kafr Batna following Syrian regime airstrikes on opposition-held areas in the Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 08 March 2018
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Assad regime accused of ‘apocalypse’ as forces tighten noose around opposition enclave in Ghouta

DOUMA: Syria’s regime sent reinforcements to Eastern Ghouta on Wednesday, tightening the noose around the shrinking opposition enclave.
The blistering onslaught has prompted outrage against the regime, with the UN’s human rights chief saying the government was orchestrating an “apocalypse” in Syria.
The Russia-backed Syrian regime forces and allied militia launched an offensive on Feb. 18 to retake the last opposition bastion near Damascus.
They have since taken more than 40 percent of the enclave, waging a devastating bombing campaign that has killed more than 800 civilians.
Heavy airstrikes battered several key towns in the zone on Wednesday, as the Syrian regime dispatched hundreds of pro-regime militiamen to the front.
“At least 700 Afghan, Palestinian, and Syrian loyalist militiamen came from Aleppo and were sent late on Tuesday to Ghouta,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The Britain-based war monitor said the reinforcements were deployed to two main battlefronts on the western side of the enclave, including the town of Harasta.
Regime troops on Wednesday were within firing range of the key towns of Misraba and Beit Sawa, and had taken up positions at the edges of Jisreen and Hammuriyeh.
Three civilians including one child were killed in heavy airstrikes on Jisreen on Wednesday, the Observatory said.
That brought the toll in more than two weeks of bombing to 810 civilians, including 179 children.
Syria’s state television on Wednesday morning showed a live broadcast of farmland adjacent to Misraba, with columns of smoke emerging from the town’s skyline.
The bombardment has continued despite a one-month cease-fire demanded by the UN Security Council more than a week ago.
UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein said the Syrian regime and its foreign allies were already planning their next “apocalypse.”
“This month, it is Eastern Ghouta which is, in the words of the secretary-general, hell on earth; next month or the month after, it will be somewhere else where people face an apocalypse — an apocalypse intended, planned and executed by individuals within the government, apparently with the full backing of some of their foreign supporters,” said Hussein.
Eastern Ghouta’s roughly 400,000 residents have lived under government siege since 2013, facing severe shortages of food and medicines even before the latest offensive began.
Forty-six aid trucks entered the area on Monday for the first time since the offensive, but had to cut short their deliveries and leave due to heavy bombardment.
Nearly half of the food aid could not be delivered and Syrian authorities removed some medical and health supplies from the trucks, the UN said.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged all warring sides to allow aid trucks to return for a planned second delivery to the enclave's main town of Douma on Thursday.
Meanwhile, also on Wednesday Syrian refugees and German politicians condemned a visit to Damascus by members of an anti-immigrant party, saying their depictions of life in the city as “normal” were especially offensive when Ghouta was being bombarded.
Seven members of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) are currently on a “fact-finding” trip to Syria, which the party wants classified as a safe-country of origin. This would make it easier to deport failed asylum seekers from Germany.
Syrians in Germany have been particularly angered by posts on the Facebook page of Christian Blex, a regional AfD lawmaker, who wrote that Syrian President Bashar Assad wanted the 600,000 Syrians who have sought refuge in Germany to return.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman slammed the visit.
“Those who flatter this regime disqualify themselves,” Steffen Seibert told a regular news conference. “The Syrian regime shows every day how inhumanly it treats its own people.”
A spokesman for the AfD said the visit was private and did not represent the AfD’s parliamentary group in the Bundestag lower house, though it included some Bundestag deputies.


Marking its 70th anniversary of relations with Egypt, Pakistan takes CPEC to Cairo

Updated 25 September 2018
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Marking its 70th anniversary of relations with Egypt, Pakistan takes CPEC to Cairo

  • South Asian Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI) in Islamabad has organized two-day conference in Egypt
  • The conference explores economic opportunities under the CPEC

CAIRO: The Egyptian-Pakistani Forum has kicked off its activities on Monday here, marking the 70th anniversary of the beginning of relations between the two countries.

The conference is organized by the South Asian Strategic Stability Institute (SASSI) in Islamabad for two days (Sept. 24-25).

Dr. Maria Sultan, the SASSI’s director general, inaugurated the conference.

The Federal Minister for Planning and Development Khusro Bakhtiar, Pakistan’s Ambassador to Egypt Mushtaq Ali Shah and other representatives from Egyptian and Pakistani ministries, including the Egyptian Minister of Planning Hala Al-Saeed, attended the conference inauguration.

“Pakistan has been and will continue to be supportive of investments in Egypt, especially in the Suez Canal region, and we are happy to partner with a pivotal country in the region and the world,” said Minister of Planning and Development Makhdoom Bakhtiar in his opening remarks.

He added: “Egypt is a promising country and the legislative environment for investments is ready to attract more projects. Pakistan has always provided a helping hand to its brothers from the Islamic world to make a continuous partnership in several fields.”

In spite of the economic investment orientation of the Forum, the issue of the war on terror was present.

Bakhtiar stressed the priority Egypt puts in the fight against terror and in bringing national security. He added that Pakistan had also had problems with terrorism for many years, and praised the Pakistani minister in Egypt for continued understanding and cooperation in the matter.

The Egyptian Minister of Planning Hala Al-Saeed expressed her happiness about this cooperation between Egypt and Pakistan. She stressed that the forum represents an important platform for dialogue and cooperation between the two countries, and that they are keen to promote and develop bilateral relations in various fields, and to elevate these relations to broad horizons.

The Egyptian minister discussed investment opportunities in Egypt, especially in the Suez Canal area, and concluded her participation in the opening session by saying: “Long live Egypt. Long live Pakistan.”

The establishment of official diplomatic relations between the two countries began in 1948. Egypt was the first country in the Middle East to open an embassy in Pakistan after its independence.

However, despite the existence of a contractual and institutional framework, the results and outcome of the cooperation is limited as the volume of trade exchange between the two countries was $231 million in 2017. This shows co-investment between two countries does not reflect the standard of relationship and resources the countries have, whether it be human resources or otherwise.

This conference is exploring economic opportunities mainly due to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative The project, unveiled by President Xi Jinping in 2013, aims to increase a number of land and sea links within Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

“Trade through the Indian Ocean is expected to rise with the emergence of China as a global economic superpower,” said a SASSI statement.

Head of the Commercial Representation Authority Ahmed Antar said that the conference comes at an important time to enhance the partnership between the two, pointing out that the Suez Canal and the port of Gwadar in Pakistan are two of the most important ports on the Silk Road, and represent a huge opportunity to enhance cooperation between Egypt and Pakistan in the fields of trade, especially with the amount of traffic expected to hit the two ports in the coming years.

He added that Egypt and Pakistan enjoy huge advantages that enable the two countries to achieve great growth and economic integration. Egypt occupies a distinguished geographic location between the continents of Asia and Africa, and Pakistan is located in the heart of Asia. The Egyptian Government seeks to enhance cooperation with Pakistan, especially in the fields of telecommunications, insurance, information technology and international trade.

The conference program includes sessions in the fields of navigation, logistics and transportation, natural resources, banking and finance, trade and supply chains, and women’s role in trade, as well as sessions for small-to-medium enterprises and media.

The conference is to be held by a group of ministers and senior representatives of the Pakistan Government, including members of the Ministries of Planning and Development, Navigation Affairs, Petroleum and Mineral Resources, Finance, Science and Technology, Commerce, Information, and Industry and Production. There will also be a large number of speakers and representatives of various government agencies, the Central Bank and Pakistani banks.

The Egyptian side also includes representatives from the Ministries of Commerce and Industry, Investment and International Cooperation, Petroleum, Communications and Information Technology, the Central Bank of Egypt, the Financial Supervision Authority and the Suez Canal Economic Zone.