Aid reaches Syria’s Ghouta as strikes hit rebel enclave

An aid convoy from the International Committee of the Red Cross makes its way to Rastan, a besieged town in Homs province, on April 21, 2016 (AFP)
Updated 09 March 2018
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Aid reaches Syria’s Ghouta as strikes hit rebel enclave

DOUMA, Syria: An aid convoy managed to deliver food to hunger-stricken Eastern Ghouta on Friday despite renewed bombardment by Syrian regime forces who have seized more than half of the besieged rebel enclave.
Nearly 950 civilians have been killed since Russia-backed government forces launched a blistering assault on the last opposition bastion near Damascus on February 18.
Fresh air strikes killed six civilians in the area of Jisreen, a war monitor said, even as the regime and businessmen held talks about the possible evacuation of residents from parts of the enclave.
The Doctors Without Borders charity called for desperately needed medical supplies to be allowed into the enclave, where exhausted doctors have been struggling to treat hundreds of wounded.
Air strikes hit the areas of Jisreen and Harasta after stopping briefly in the early morning, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said.
Earlier, 13 trucks loaded with 2,400 food parcels crossed into Eastern Ghouta, the International Committee of the Red Cross said, entering what UN chief Antonio Guterres has called “hell on earth.”

But renewed bombardment near the main town of Douma soon threatened the joint ICRC, Syrian Arab Red Crescent and United Nations convoy.
“Shelling in proximity of Douma, east Ghouta today, is putting the UN/ICRC/SARC convoy at risk, despite assurances of safety from parties including the Russian Federation,” the UN humanitarian coordinator in Syria, Ali Al-Zaatari, said.
The aid was delivered with helicopters hovering overhead and warplanes targeting areas outside Douma, a correspondent in the town said.
There were no medical supplies on board Friday’s convoy, which was carrying food that aid workers were unable to distribute on Monday.
The enclave’s 400,000 inhabitants have been living under government siege since 2013, with food and medicines in very short supply even before the latest assault.
The renewed artillery fire came as representatives of Damascus and businessmen pressed negotiations on a solution that would allow civilians or fighters to leave the enclave, the Observatory said.
Syrian state news agency SANA said dozens of civilians were expected to leave Eastern Ghouta on Friday.
In the town of Hammuriyeh, dozens of people took part in a protest calling for an end to the bloodshed, the Observatory said.
“Enough destruction and death! We want to save our children and all those who have not died,” said Abu Riyadh, a 47-year-old man in the town.
A negotiator from the town said a “civilian delegation” was “to negotiate with the regime toward a solution to end the fighting” in the area.
A tribal leader said more than 300 civilians from the areas of Kafr Batna, Saqba and Hammuriyeh wanted to leave.
He told journalists there had been discussions for “500 fighters to hand over their weapons to the army.”
Ambulances and green buses — usually used to evacuate people from areas retaken by the regime — waited near a key checkpoint out of the enclave, an AFP reporter there said, as national songs blared on loudspeakers.
The air and ground assault has left medical staff exhausted.
Doctors and nurses in the enclave have run out of several life-saving items, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said Friday.
“The need for a massive medical re-supply, without life-saving items being removed, is increasingly urgent with each passing hour,” MSF said in a statement.
The Paris-based charity urged the warring parties to pause the bombardment to allow for the evacuation of critically ill or wounded patients.
More than a week ago, the United Nations said those already numbered more than 700.
The charity said 15 of the 20 medical facilities it supports in Eastern Ghouta have been hit by air strikes or shelling.
Regime forces have advanced rapidly through farmland in the enclave since last week, the Observatory says, taking control of more than half of the territory from the armed opposition.
On Monday, 46 trucks entered the area in the first aid provision since February 18 — but had to cut their deliveries short due to bombardment.
The United Nations said Syrian authorities removed some medical supplies from the trucks.
More than 340,000 people have been killed since Syria’s war started in 2011 with the brutal repression of anti-government protests.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi on Friday called the conflict a “colossal human tragedy.”
“The conditions faced by civilians inside Syria are worse than ever, with 69 percent languishing in extreme poverty,” he said.
UN-backed peace talks have failed to end the war, and a nationwide cease-fire called for by the UN Security Council last month has not been implemented.
In northern Syria, Turkey-led rebels have been pressing an assault on the Kurdish enclave of Afrin since January 20.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that his forces and allied rebels could enter the center of Afrin town “at any moment,” a day after they seized another key town in the area.


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

Updated 49 min 7 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.