Syria’s ‘chemical weapons’ research chief blown up in car bomb

Aziz Asber was killed when his car was blown up in Hama Province. (AFP)
Updated 05 August 2018
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Syria’s ‘chemical weapons’ research chief blown up in car bomb

  • Aziz Asber was the director of the Syrian Scientific Research Center
  • Hardline rebel group says it carried out the killing

BEIRUT: The head of a Syrian research facility that Western countries say was part of a chemical weapons program was killed when his car was blown up, the pro-Syrian government newspaper Al-Watan said on Sunday.
Aziz Asber was the director of the Syrian Scientific Research Center in Masyaf, near the city of Hama, which Western governments say was a covert Syrian government installation.
“(Asber) died after an explosion targeted his car in the Hama countryside,” the Al-Watan report said.
The attack on Asber was claimed by a Syrian rebel group affiliated to Tahrir Al-Sham, a rebel group. It includes the group formerly known as the Nusra Front, which served as Al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch.
The Abu Amara Brigades released a statement on their Telegram online channel that said they “planted explosive devices” which detonated and killed Asber.
The explosion occurred on Saturday night, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitoring group said.
The Masyaf facility has previously been hit by what the Syrian government said were Israeli strikes in July and last year in September .
In April, missile strikes by the United States, Britain and France destroyed a Syrian Scientific Research Center facility in Damascus, in response to a suspected poison gas attack .
The Syrian government, backed by Russia, has denied using — or possessing — chemical weapons.
An Israeli government official declined to comment on reports of Asber’s death when asked by Reuters.


Egypt’s street iftar comes with a community flavor

Updated 56 min 53 sec ago
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Egypt’s street iftar comes with a community flavor

  • Christian clerics in Egypt organize annual Muslim iftar meals to encourage national unity

CAIRO: Hardly a street in Egypt is without its iftar table as families organize “mercy meals” for friends, relatives and neighbors during Ramadan.

A tradition that began to help the poor has been extended to include entire streets and neighborhoods, giving residents and friends a chance to meet, share old memories and instil community values in their children.

In Cairo, people compete to organize large iftar tables laden with food items.

Each year Moataz Aburiyeh plans an iftar table for friends and neighbors in the capital’s central Abdin area.

“I consider it a great opportunity to see a lot of friends and talk about everything,” 38-year-old Aburiyeh told Arab News.

The table contains all kinds of food. “On the table is meat, chicken, rice, salad and other items. I know the family and neighbors’ preferences and I meet their taste,” said Aburiyeh, who owns a men’s clothing store.

Meanwhile, residents in Umm Reza, a village west of Cairo, organized an iftar table to gather all the people of the village for the second year in a row.

School teacher Khaled Kamal, who was behind the idea, said: “I suggested to residents that they gather during Ramadan and everyone welcomed the idea.”

Villagers donated money for the gathering until they had raised more than 10,000 Egyptian pounds ($600).

“We let all the people of the village, including Christians, share the meal,” said Kamal.

Another villager, Sayed Fouad, said: “The iftar was well organized and included hot meals consisting of meat, rice, vegetables, salad, pickles and damietta sweets.”

National unity

For the past five decades, Christian clerics in Egypt have organized annual Muslim iftar meals to encourage national unity.

In the 1970s, the Coptic religious brotherhood began hosting Ramadan meals for Muslims, a move that was followed by the Justice and Peace association a decade later.

Pope Shenouda, the Coptic Orthodox Pope of Alexandria, promoted iftar meals to strengthen the church’s connection with the Egyptian nation.

The Church of the Palace of Dupara in Tahrir Square in central Cairo has been organizing a breakfast table for several years, attended by Muslim and Christian leaders. The church is being supervised by a number of young men and women.

Coptic scholar Robert Al-Fares said: “The Christians of Egypt are organizing iftar to show that society has returned to a period of friendship and unified spirit.

“This is a positive phenomenon that confirms the end of a dark era of division between sects and religions,” he said, referring to the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2012 and 2013.

“Egyptians have returned to their normal state after a period of radicalization by extremists who sought to destroy the culture of tolerance and acceptance between Egyptian people,” Al-Fares said.