Fears grow for Aleppo civilians as Syria regime advances

TOPSHOT - A man reacts following reported airstrikes on Aleppo's rebel-held district of al-Hamra on November 20, 2016. / AFP / THAER MOHAMMED
Updated 21 November 2016

Fears grow for Aleppo civilians as Syria regime advances

ALEPPO, SYRIA: Syrian regime forces advanced quickly in rebel-held areas of Aleppo on Monday, pressing a new offensive in defiance of international concern over the fate of the city and its residents.
Both US President Barack Obama and the UN’s Syria envoy expressed pessimism about the future of the city, where more than 250,000 people are besieged in the rebel-held east.
More than 100 civilians have been killed in the east since the regime’s latest offensive began on Tuesday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.
The group said government forces backed by Iranian and Russian troops and fighters from Lebanon’s Hezbollah had captured the eastern part of the Masakan Hanano neighborhood.
“It is the most important advance inside the eastern neighborhoods that the regime has made so far,” said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
“If they take control of Masakan Hanano, the regime will have line of fire control over several rebel-held neighborhoods and will be able to cut off the northern parts of rebel-held Aleppo from the rest of the opposition-held districts.”
Abdel Rahman said the advance had both strategic and symbolic significance, because Masakan Hanano was the first neighborhood to fall to rebels in 2012.
Syria’s Al-Watan daily, which is close to the government, described the neighborhood as the “biggest and most important stronghold of the gunmen” in Aleppo.


Once Syria’s economic powerhouse, Aleppo has been ravaged by the conflict that began with anti-government protests in March 2011 before spiralling into a brutal war that has killed more than 300,000 people.
The city has been divided between government control in the west and rebel control in the east since mid-2012.
In mid-July, the regime surrounded the east, subsequently announcing an operation to recapture it completely.
Despite international outrage, including over the bombing of hospitals and rescue worker facilities, there has been little sign that foreign powers or the UN can stop the fighting in Aleppo.
Obama said Sunday he was “not optimistic about the short-term prospects in Syria.”
“Once Russia and Iran made a decision to back (Bashar Al-) Assad in a brutal air campaign... it was very hard to see a way in which even a trained and committed moderate opposition could hold its ground for long periods of time,” he added.
Washington has long backed the uprising against Assad, but has not committed military resources like Iran, and particularly Russia, which last year began a aerial campaign in support of Damascus.
Moscow says it is not carrying out strikes on Aleppo, though last week it announced a “major operation” in neighboring Idlib and central Homs provinces.
On Sunday, Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem rebuffed a proposal from UN envoy Staffan de Mistura to halt fighting in Aleppo and allow the opposition to administer the east of the city.
Under the proposal, jihadist forces would have left east Aleppo, and both sides would cease fire.
But Muallem said the proposal would “reward terrorists.”
“We told him that we reject that completely,” Muallem said after meeting De Mistura in Damascus.
“The institutions of state must return to east Aleppo,” he added.
The top UN diplomat warned that time was “running out” for eastern Aleppo, adding that there was concern “instead of a humanitarian or a political initiative” there would be “an acceleration of military activities” in the city and elsewhere.
“By Christmas... due to military intensification, you will have the virtual collapse of what is left in eastern Aleppo; you may have 200,000 people moving toward Turkey — that would be a humanitarian catastrophe,” he warned.
The UN has also proposed a humanitarian plan for east Aleppo, involving the delivery of aid, evacuation of sick and wounded civilians and the entry of doctors to help treat residents.
De Mistura said Sunday the government had not agreed to that plan either, while rebel groups in Aleppo said they were in favor of the proposal.
The World Health Organization says there are no more functioning hospitals in east Aleppo, although it was impossible to confirm that independently.
The agency said some health services were available through small clinics, but there was no longer access to trauma care or major surgery.
The UN Security Council is scheduled to meet later Monday in New York to discuss humanitarian efforts in Syria.


Private schools and universities in Lebanon are in economic crisis

Updated 1 min 34 sec ago

Private schools and universities in Lebanon are in economic crisis

  • Education centers risk closing or reducing costs after nationwide disruption

BEIRUT: The future of thousands of Lebanese students is at stake as private educational institutions assess their ability to continue operations in the next academic year, due to the economic crunch facing Lebanon.

“If the economic situation continues, private schools will be forced to close down for good, a move that will affect more than 700,000 students, 59,000 teachers and 15,000 school administrators,” said Father Boutros Azar, secretary-general of the General Secretariat of Catholic Schools in Lebanon, and coordinator of the Association of Private Educational Institutions in Lebanon.

Over 1,600 private schools are operating in Lebanon, including free schools and those affiliated to various religion societies, Azar said.

The number of public schools in Lebanon, he added, is 1,256, serving 328,000 students from the underprivileged segment of society and 200,000 Syrian refugee students.

“The number of teachers in the formal education sector is 43,500 professors and teachers — 20,000 of them are permanent staff and the rest work on a contract basis,” Azar said.

This development will also have an impact on private universities, whose number has increased to 50 in the past 20 years.

Ibrahim Khoury, a special adviser to the president of the American University of Beirut (AUB), told Arab News: “All universities in Lebanon are facing an unprecedented crisis, and the message of AUB President Dr. Fadlo R. Khuri, a few weeks ago, was a warning about the future of university education in light of the economic crisis that Lebanon is facing.”

Khoury said many universities would likely reduce scientific research and dispense with certain specializations.

“Distance education is ongoing, but classes must be opened for students in the first semester of next year, but we do not yet know what these classes are.”

Khoury added: “Universities are still following the official exchange rate of the dollar, which is 1,512 Lebanese pounds (LBP), but the matter is subject to future developments.”

Lebanese parents are also worried about the future of their children, after the current school year ended unexpectedly due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Dr. Tarek Majzoub, the minister of education and higher education, ended the academic year in public schools and gave private schools the right to take a call on this issue.

He said: “The coming academic year will witness intensification of lessons and a review of what students have missed.”

But what sort of academic year should students expect?

Differences have developed between school owners, parents, and teachers over the payment of tuition fees and teachers’ salaries.

Azar said: “What I know so far is that 80 percent of the Catholic schools in Lebanon will close their doors next year unless they are financially helped. Some families today are unable to pay the rest of the dues for the current year either because their breadwinners were fired or not working, while others do not want to pay dues because schools remain closed due to the pandemic.

“Lebanese people chose private schools for their children because they trusted them for their quality — 70 percent of Lebanese children go to private schools. Today, we are facing a major crisis, and I say that if education collapses in Lebanon, then the area surrounding Lebanon will collapse. Many Arab students from the Gulf states receive their education in the most prestigious Lebanese schools,” he added.

“What we are witnessing today is that the educational contract is no longer respected. It can be said that what broke the back of school owners is the approval by the Lebanese parliament in 2018 of a series of ranks and salaries that have bankrupted the state treasury and put all institutions in a continuous deficit.”

Those in charge of formal education expect a great rush for enrollment in public schools and universities, but the ability of these formal institutions to absorb huge numbers of students is limited.

Majzoub said that his ministry was “working on proposing a law to help private schools provide a financial contribution for each learner within the available financial capabilities or grants that can be obtained.”

The undersecretary of the Teachers’ Syndicate in Private Schools, former government minister Ziad Baroud, said: “The crisis of remaining student fees and teachers’ salaries needs to be resolved by special legislation in parliament that regulates the relationship between all parties — teachers, parents, and schools — and takes into account the measures to end teachers’ contracts before July 5.”

Baroud spoke of “hundreds of teachers being discharged from their schools every year based on a legal article that gives the right to school owners to dismiss any teacher from service, provided that they send the teacher a notification before July 5.”

H said it should be kept in mind that thousands of teachers have not yet received their salaries for the last four months, and some of them had received only 50 percent or even less of their salaries.

Khoury said: “The AUB received a loan from the late Prime Minister Rashid Karami at the beginning of the 1975 Lebanese civil war to keep it afloat. In the 1990s, the late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri provided aid and grants to the universities. Today, no one can help universities.”

Last Thursday, the Lebanese parliament adopted a proposal submitted by the leader of the Future Parliamentary Bloc, Bahia Hariri, to allocate LBP300 billion to the education sector to help it mitigate the effects of COVID-19.