Syria jets bombard rebel targets on airport road

Updated 30 November 2012
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Syria jets bombard rebel targets on airport road

BEIRUT: Syrian air force jets bombarded rebel targets on Friday close to the Damascus airport road and a regional airline said foreign carriers had halted flights to the capital.
Activists said security forces clashed with rebels trying to topple President Bashar Assad around Aqraba and Babilla districts on the southeastern outskirts of the Damascus which lead to the international airport.
Internet connections and most telephone lines were down for a second day, the worst communications outage in a 20-month-old uprising in which 40,000 people have been killed, hundreds of thousands have fled the country, and millions been displaced.
The mostly Sunni Muslim rebels who are battling Assad, from Syria’s Alawite minority linked to Shiite Islam, have been making gains around Syria by overrunning military bases and have been ramping up attacks on Damascus, his seat of power.
A resident of central Damascus said he saw black smoke rising from the east and the south of the city on Friday morning and could hear the constant boom of shelling. State television said Assad’s forces were fighting rebels in those areas.
An aviation source in neighboring Jordan said two Syrian Air flights crossed Jordanian air space heading for the Syrian capital on Friday evening and that Damascus airport was open, although international airlines were staying away.
The head of the national airline Syria Air said services were operating according to schedule, state television reported.
EgyptAir and Emirates have suspended flights to Damascus in response to the recent violence and there was no sign that Air Arabia and flydubai had flown scheduled trips on Friday.
“Airlines are not operating to Damascus today,” said a Dubai-based airline official.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based opposition monitoring group, said jets were bombarding targets in rural areas around Aqraba and Babilla, where rebels clashed with Assad’s forces.
The Observatory’s director, Rami Abdelrahman, said the airport road was open, but there was minimal traffic.
A rebel contacted by Reuters who said he was on the airport road said his fighters would not let the airport operate. “We will never open the road. It’s still closed and it will remain closed. We will not allow planes to arrive,” he said.
MORTAR FIRED
Rebels said that at least one mortar round was fired at the airport during clashes on Thursday.
“We want to liberate the airport because of reports we see and our own information we have that shows civilian airplanes are being flown in here with weapons for the regime. It is our right to stop this,” rebel spokesman Musaab Abu Qitada said.
US and European officials said rebels were making gains in Syria, gradually eroding Assad’s power, but said the fighting had not yet shifted completely in their favor.
A Damascus-based diplomat said he believed the escalation in fighting around the capital was part of a government offensive which aimed to seal off the state-controlled center of the city from rebel-held rural areas to the south and east.
Activists say Assad’s forces have also been shelling the Daraya district to the southwest of the city, trying to prevent rebels from cementing their hold of an area which could give them a presence in a continuous arc from the northeast to southwest of the capital’s outer districts.
“I don’t know whether the shelling has succeeded in pushing back the FSA (rebels) — experience shows that they return very quickly anyway,” the diplomat said. “We seem to be entering a decisive phase of the Damascus offensive.”
Syria’s Internet shut down on Thursday, a move which activists blamed on authorities but which authorities variously attributed to a ‘terrorist’ attack or a technical fault.
Global hacking network Anonymous said it would shut down Syrian government websites around the world in response to a move it said was aimed at silencing Assad’s critics.
“As we discovered in Egypt, where the dictator (Hosni) Mubarak did something similar — this is not damage that can be easily or quickly repaired,” it said, referring to an Internet outage during the early days of the 2011 uprising in Egypt.
French foreign ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot said the communications cut was of a matter of “extreme concern.”
“It is another demonstration of what the Damascus regime is doing to hold its people hostage. We call on the Damascus regime to reestablish communications without delay,” he said.
CloudFlare, a firm that helps accelerate Internet traffic, said on its blog that saboteurs would have had to simultaneously cut three undersea cables into the Mediterranean city of Tartous and also an overland cable through Turkey in order to cut off the entire country’s Internet access.
“That is unlikely to have happened,” it said.


Mo Salah, the face of Ramadan in Cairo

Ramadan lantern bearing the image of Liverpool's Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Salah hanging on sale at a market in Cairo's central Sayyida Zeinab district. AFP
Updated 9 min 22 sec ago
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Mo Salah, the face of Ramadan in Cairo

  • Ramadan, shoppers have flocked to buy a fanous — a traditional Ramadan lantern
  • Salah lanterns have even made it on to the official World Cup Twitter feed

CAIRO: They call him the Egyptian king. The king on the wing. Mohamed Salah, the gift from Allah. And that is just in the English city of Liverpool, where he plies his trade as a footballer of exceptional talent. Here in his homeland, he transcends the sport that has made him famous.

In Cairo this Ramadan his face is everywhere, adorning everything from lanterns to bedlinen. Egypt has a tradition of naming dates — traditionally eaten to break the fast — after celebrities. Unsurprisingly, the Mohamed Salah date is by far the top seller.
Meanwhile, in March it was reported that there was strong support for him in the presidential elections — and he was not even a candidate.
The ordinarily packed streets will be deserted during Saturday’s Champion’s League final between Liverpool and the mighty Real Madrid. It is the same story whenever there is a Liverpool match on: The streets go quiet and the cafes fill up. Cairo’s leading clubs, Al-Ahly and Zamalek, now have to play second fiddle to a club thousands of miles away on another continent.
“I make more money when Liverpool are playing than on any other day,” Hamdi El-Wahsh told Arab News. He owns a cafe in the Maadi district of Cairo and on the day of the Egypt Cup game featuring Zamalek, he had to warn customers that if the match went into extra time they would have to miss it because he was switching over for the pivotal Champions League semifinal between Liverpool and Roma.
“They did not mind. On the contrary, they seemed more excited to watch Liverpool because of Salah,” said El-Wahsh. “Nobody is really interested in a domestic match. They mainly come for Salah.”

Football achievements
At just 25, and after only one season with the English club, Salah’s footballing achievements are remarkable. He was the top scorer in the Premier League and was named Player of the Year by his peers in the Professional Footballers Association. He was also African Footballer of the Year in 2017, and it was his last-minute goal against Congo that secured Egypt a place in next month’s World Cup for the first time since 1990.
But Salah’s impact on his country reaches far beyond the football field, and he is loved for much more than what he does with a ball at his feet.
As a 14-year-old growing up in Nagrig, a village of 15,000 people in the Nile Delta, getting to training sessions with his first senior team, El Mokawloon, meant a four-hour journey each way by bike, several buses and on foot. Nowadays he drives a Porsche Turbo and a Mercedes GLE, and with a weekly salary of £90,000 will never again have financial worries, but he is not keeping his wealth for himself.
He has donated a dialysis machine to a hospital in Nagrig, paid for land to build a sewage treatment plant and renovated a public sports center, a school and a mosque. An empty car park is set to be the site of an ambulance station. The Mohamed Salah Charity dispenses financial support to families in need.
“He is constantly donating money to charities and to his home town,” said Said Elshishiny, Salah’s childhood football coach. “It’s enough to make anyone adore him.”
When the head of Zamalek, who decided not to sign Salah to the club, tried to give him a gift — variously reported as a humvee or a luxury villa — the footballer declined and suggested that he buy medical equipment instead.
He is a committed and effective anti-drugs campaigner. A video he took part in last month, promoting the message “You are stronger than surrender, you are stronger then drugs” produced 35 million interactions on social media. Within three days of its release, Egypt’s Ministry of Social Security reported a fourfold increase in the number of people seeking treatment for addiction.

Gold mine
In commercial terms, the man is a gold mine. His face is on video stores and shopping centers. One mural outside a downtown Cairo cafe has become a tourist attraction.
This Ramadan, shoppers have flocked to buy a fanous — a traditional Ramadan lantern — in the form of a moving, singing Mohamed Salah wearing the Egyptian national team strip, costing between 180 and 250 Egyptian pounds ($10 to $14).
“It’s the best-selling item I have now,” said Ramadan Salah, who owns a small shop in downtown Cairo. People come to my shop and specifically ask for it. One customer told me he was buying a Salah lantern as a birthday gift for his eight-year-old son who is a big fan.”
Demand has been so high that Egyptian traders have had to import Chinese-made lanterns. Salah lanterns have even made it on to the official World Cup Twitter feed with the caption: “Which toy do the kids of Cairo want? Woody, Hello Kitty, a surfing @mosalah? I think we all know the answer.”
Furnishings bearing the footballer’s image are premium items. Al Sayed Najida, a furniture trader in Ghouriya, admits he charges more but says that is because he uses superior materials for his Salah-themed wares. “We sell at a price that fits the cost of the raw material. He is a global player and God loves him as he loves us,” he said.