Syria negotiators reach Kazakhstan for peace talks

People watch as members of the Syrian Civil Defense search the rubble of a collapsed building following an explosion in the town of Jisr Al-Shughour, in the Syrian province of Idlib, on Wednesday. (AFP)
Updated 25 April 2019

Syria negotiators reach Kazakhstan for peace talks

  • Talks will take place throughout the day in “two-way and three-way formats”
  • UN’s Syria envoy Geir Pedersen was to arrive later in the day

NUR-SULTAN: Delegations from Iran, Russia and Turkey were in Kazakhstan’s capital Nur-Sultan on Thursday seeking an end to the conflict in Syria while shoring up their interests in any future political settlement.

Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that teams from the three powers as well as negotiators from the Syrian regime and its armed opponents had arrived in the capital on Thursday.

Talks will take place throughout the day in “two-way and three-way formats” ahead of an expected plenary session on Friday, the ministry said in a statement.

UN’s Syria envoy Geir Pedersen was to arrive later in the day, the ministry added.

The situation on the ground in the northwestern region of Idlib, under the administrative control of Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), is expected to feature prominently in the talks.

Idlib has been protected from a massive regime offensive by a September deal inked by Damascus ally Russia and opposition backer Turkey. But regime bombardment has increased since HTS took full control of the region from rival fighters in January. Other items expected to be included in negotiations include prisoner swaps and the distribution of humanitarian aid.

Russia, a backer of Syria’s Bashar Assad, has taken a lead role in diplomatic efforts in Kazakhstan that has largely sidelined UN diplomacy.

Tehran, like Moscow, is an ally of Assad’s regime, while Ankara has aligned itself with the opposition but has repeatedly threatened to attack Kurdish fighters on the Syrian side of its southern border that it views as “terrorists.”

A Western diplomat told AFP that Moscow will be aware of perceptions that recent rounds of the so-called “Astana process” have made little progress and may push to speed up the creation of a long-awaited constitutional committee.

The capital of Kazakhstan was called Astana until last month, when it was renamed after the country’s outgoing president.

The committee is of particular interest to the UN which favors a Syrian-led resolution to the conflict but it may be hamstrung from the outset, the diplomat warned.

“Even if a constitutional committee is created, it will then take a long time to reach a very uncertain result,” the diplomat told AFP.

Any proposal would therefore be “low risk” for Moscow, whose military intervention in 2015 has helped Damascus assert control over two-thirds of the country’s territory. Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions.


Cairo turns to Tokyo for a lesson on education

Updated 23 August 2019

Cairo turns to Tokyo for a lesson on education

  • The Japanese education system is recognized as one of the top five worldwide

CAIRO: Egypt is seeking Japan’s help to improve its education system, which has fallen to 130th place in international rankings.

The Japanese education system is recognized as one of the top five worldwide, and Cairo is hoping to apply key aspects of Japan’s approach to the Egyptian curriculum.

Education has played a major role in transforming Japan from a feudal state receiving aid following World War II to a modern economic powerhouse. 

During a visit to Japan in 2016, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi discussed political and economic development with Japanese officials, and was also briefed on the Japanese education system.

The Egyptian leader visited Japanese schools and called on Japan to help Egypt introduce a similar system in its schools.  

As part of Egyptian-Japanese cooperation, Japan’s embassy established cultural cooperation as well as technical and professional education links between the two countries. Collaboration has been strengthened from kindergarten to post-university, with Japanese experts contributing in various education fields.

Japanese experts have held seminars in schools across the country, focusing on basic education. 

During one seminar, Japan highlighted the importance of enhancing education by playing games during kindergarten and primary school, encouraging children’s ability and desire to explore.  

Education expert Ola El-Hazeq told Arab News that the Japanese system focuses on developing students’ sense of collective worth and responsibility toward society. This starts with their surrounding environment by taking care of school buildings, educational equipment and school furniture, for example.

“Japanese schools are known for being clean,” El-Hazeq said. “The first thing that surprises a school visitor is finding sneakers placed neatly in a locker or on wooden shelves at the school entrance. Each sneaker has its owner’s name on it. This is a habit picked up at most primary and intermediate schools as well as in many high schools.”

Japanese students also clean their classrooms, collect leaves that have fallen in the playground and take out the garbage. In many cases, teachers join students to clean up schools and also public gardens and beaches during the summer holidays.

El-Hazeq added that neither the teachers nor the students find it beneath their dignity to carry out such chores.

The academic year in Japan continues for almost 11 months, different from most other countries, with the Japanese academic year starting on April 1 and ending on March 31 the following year.

Japan’s school days and hours are relatively longer in comparison with other countries. Usually the school day is from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Teachers normally work until 5 p.m. but sometimes up to 7 p.m. Holidays are shorter than in other countries. Spring and winter holidays are no longer than 10 days, and the summer holiday ranges from 40 to 45 days.