Gazan engineer behind Mars helicopter says visiting home is no small step

Gazan engineer behind Mars helicopter says visiting home is no small step
Elbasyouni has made an astonishing journey from Gaza to the US space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. (AP)
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Updated 01 May 2021

Gazan engineer behind Mars helicopter says visiting home is no small step

Gazan engineer behind Mars helicopter says visiting home is no small step
  • In 2012 he was hired by a technology company that was developing electric aircraft

GAZA STRIP: An electronics engineer from Gaza, Loay Elbasyouni, had worked with the NASA team that made history this month by launching an experimental helicopter from the surface of Mars.
But he says an expedition to his hometown in the Gaza Strip, where posters celebrate his achievement, feels even farther away because of Israeli and Egyptian restrictions.
“When you deal with electrons and technology, you can calculate things and know their path,” he said from his home in Los Angeles. “When you deal with people and politics, you don’t know where things can go.”
The 42-year-old has himself made an astonishing journey from the hardscrabble town of Beit Hanoun near the heavily-guarded Israeli frontier to the US space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, where he worked as a contractor helping design the Ingenuity helicopter.
He left Gaza in 1998 to study in the US and has only returned once, for a brief visit in 2000 prior to the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, late that year. Some 6,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis were killed in fighting, attacks and Israeli military operations before the violence ebbed in 2005.
As Gaza weathered one crisis after another, Elbasyouni pursued his studies in the US.
He struggled to afford tuition at the University of Kentucky, especially after the family farm was bulldozed. At one point he said he worked more than 90 hours a week at a Subway sandwich shop to make ends meet. He eventually transferred to the University of Louisville, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering.
In 2012 he was hired by a technology company that was developing electric aircraft. Two years later, the company was contracted by NASA for the Mars helicopter project, and Elbasyouni was promoted to lead electronics engineer.
He spent six years working alongside other NASA scientists to develop the helicopter’s propulsion system, its controller and other key components.
The robotic helicopter he developed hitched a ride to Mars on the Perseverance rover, which was launched into space on a rocket in July. He said his feelings were “indescribable” when he watched it touch down on the surface of the red planet in February.
Elbasyouni followed every moment of the expedition, and nervously awaited any signal the helicopter was working once it was launched. When the first images reached Earth showing the helicopter taking flight, “I screamed in the middle of night and woke up everyone in the building,” he said.
Elbasyouni says he’s unlikely to visit anytime soon because of the travel restrictions. If he wanted to visit he would have to go through Jordan or Egypt, as Israel does not allow Gazans to fly in or out of its international airport.
In Jordan, he would have to wait for a special shuttle to take him from the Allenby Bridge crossing across the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Israel to the Erez Crossing with Gaza. The irregular shuttle only runs every few days. Each direction would require an Israeli permit, a process that can be complicated, time-consuming and uncertain.
Exit permits are usually only granted to patients seeking life-saving medical treatment or a small number of businessmen.
His other option would be to go through Egypt and try to enter Gaza through the Rafah crossing, which only opens sporadically. Egypt imposes its own restrictions on Palestinians, who must apply for travel permits.

UN says 5 migrants downed; over 700 intercepted off Libya

UN says 5 migrants downed; over 700 intercepted off Libya
Updated 10 May 2021

UN says 5 migrants downed; over 700 intercepted off Libya

UN says 5 migrants downed; over 700 intercepted off Libya

CAIRO: At least five people, including a woman and a child, drowned when a boat carrying at least 45 Europe-bound migrants capsized off Libya, a UN migration official said on Monday. The wreck was the latest disaster in the Mediterranean Sea involving migrants seeking a better life in Europe.
Safa Msehli, a spokeswoman for the International Organization for Migration, said the wreck took place on Sunday. She said fishermen rescued 40 migrants and returned them to the shore.
Msehli said the boat was among nine others carrying more than 700 migrants intercepted Sunday by the Libyan coast guard off the coast of the North African country.
The intercepted migrants were taken to overcrowded detention centers, where the UN migration agency fears more threats to their lives and violations of their rights, she said.
There has been a spike in crossings and attempted crossings from Libya in recent weeks, with smugglers taking advantage of the calm sea and warm weather.
Federico Soda, head of IOM in Libya, said he was “extremely concerned” about the spike in migrant departure from Libya and “the continuous loss of life.”
“The situation cannot be ignored, and states must live up to their responsibilities and redeploy search and rescue vessels,” he tweeted.
Libya has in recent years emerged as the dominant transit point for migrants fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East. The oil-rich country plunged into chaos following a NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime ruler Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.
Earlier this month, at least 11 Europe-bound migrants drowned when a rubber dinghy carrying two dozen people capsized off Libya. That followed another tragedy in April where at least 130 migrants were presumed dead, in one of the deadliest maritime tragedies in years along the busy route.
Around 7,000 Europe-bound migrants were intercepted and returned to Libya so far this year, according to the IOM’s tally.
Smugglers often pack desperate families into ill-equipped rubber boats that stall and founder along the perilous Central Mediterranean route. Over the last several years, hundreds of thousands of migrants have reached Europe either on their own or after being rescued at sea.
Thousands have drowned along the way. Others were intercepted and returned to Libya to be left at the mercy of armed groups or confined in squalid detention centers that lack adequate food and water, according to rights groups.

UAE to bar travel from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka from Wednesday

UAE to bar travel from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka from Wednesday
Updated 10 May 2021

UAE to bar travel from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka from Wednesday

UAE to bar travel from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka from Wednesday
  • Part of measures to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic

DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates will bar entry for travelers from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka starting Wednesday, as part of measures to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the country’s National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority said on its website on Monday.

“Flights between the four countries will continue to allow the transport of passengers from the UAE to Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka,” it said.

The UAE announced last month a ban on entry from India to guard against the spread of the highly contagious Indian variant of the coronavirus.

Dubai Police arrest one of UK’s most-wanted fugitives

Dubai Police arrest one of UK’s most-wanted fugitives
Updated 10 May 2021

Dubai Police arrest one of UK’s most-wanted fugitives

Dubai Police arrest one of UK’s most-wanted fugitives
  • Michael Paul Moogan has avoided apprehension by using false identities

DUBAI: Dubai Police have arrested one of the UK’s most wanted fugitives after eight years on the run, after Interpol issued a Red Notice.

Michael Paul Moogan, 35, from Liverpool in the UK, had been on the National Crime Agency-UK wanted list for his alleged role in a large-scale international drug trafficking plot to import drugs from Latin America to Europe, state news agency WAM reported.

Moogan had evaded arrest by using false identities after escaping a police raid on a café in the Netherlands, believed to be a front for a drug cartel.

It is claimed that Café de Ketel in Rotterdam, Netherlands was being used for meetings between drug traffickers and cartels and was central to a plot to bring hundreds of kilos of cocaine into the UK every week, WAM reported.

British officials described the café as “a business not open to the public that could only be entered via a security system,” a separate report from British broadcaster the BBC noted.

Moogan will be flown back to the UK where he is due to face trial, the broadcaster added.

UK anti-crime officials have praised the cooperation between Dubai Police and Interpol, which resulted to Moogan’s arrest.

“We are extremely grateful to those partners for their assistance in ensuring Moogan now faces justice and particularly thank the Dubai Police for their efforts to track him down. His extradition from the UAE is being requested,” Nikki Holland, NCA Director of Investigation said.

Dubai Police managed to identify the suspect although he had used a different name and nationality to enter the country and was immediately placed under surveillance prior to his arrest.

Police authorities have earlier worked on the extradition of 52 internationally-wanted people involved in serious crimes such as terrorism, organized crime, money laundering, murder and drugs.

Kuwait Oil reports ‘limited fire’ at Burgan field

Kuwait Oil reports ‘limited fire’ at Burgan field
Updated 10 May 2021

Kuwait Oil reports ‘limited fire’ at Burgan field

Kuwait Oil reports ‘limited fire’ at Burgan field
  • Production was not impacted

DUBAI: A “limited fire” broke out on Monday at the Kuwait Oil Co’s Greater Burgan field, injuring two workers but with no impact on production, the state news agency KUNA reported, citing a company statement.
The fire was quickly brought under control, it said.
Greater Burgan is Kuwait’s biggest and one of the world’s largest producing fields, according to Wood Mackenzie.

UN chief urges Israel to exercise restraint as more clashes erupt in East Jerusalem

UN chief urges Israel to exercise restraint as more clashes erupt in East Jerusalem
Updated 10 May 2021

UN chief urges Israel to exercise restraint as more clashes erupt in East Jerusalem

UN chief urges Israel to exercise restraint as more clashes erupt in East Jerusalem
  • More than 180 Palestinians were injured in the violence on Monday
  • Antonio Guterres says Israel must ‘cease the demolitions and evictions’ of Palestinian homes

JERUSALEM: Palestinian protesters threw rocks and Israeli police fired stun grenades and rubber bullets in clashes outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on Monday as Israel marked the anniversary of its capture of parts of the city in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said more than 180 Palestinians were injured in the violence, of whom more than 80, including one person in critical condition, were transferred to hospitals.
Al-Aqsa, Islam’s third-holiest site, has been a focal point of violence in Jerusalem throughout the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The clashes have raised international concern.
Tensions were particularly high as Israel was marked “Jerusalem Day,” its annual celebration of the capture of East Jerusalem and the walled Old City that is home to Muslim, Jewish and Christian holy places.
In an effort to ease the situation, Israeli police said they had banned Jewish groups from paying Jerusalem Day visits to the holy plaza that houses Al-Aqsa, and which Jews revere as the site of biblical Jewish temples.

Meanwhile, UN chief Antonio Guterres believes Israel “must exercise maximum restraint and respect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly,” a UN spokesman said, as tensions rise around Al-Aqsa, Islam’s third-holiest mosque.

“The Secretary-General expresses his deep concern over the continuing violence in occupied East Jerusalem, as well as the possible evictions of Palestinian families from their homes,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

“He urges Israel to cease demolitions and evictions.”

Guterres urged that the status quo at the holy sites be upheld and respected, Dujarric said.


The late-night skirmishes raised the likelihood of further clashes Monday during the annual Jerusalem Day celebrations.

Israeli police gave the go-ahead to the parade Sunday, despite days of unrest and soaring Israeli-Palestinian tensions at a flashpoint holy site and in a nearby Arab neighborhood where Jewish settlers are trying to evict dozens of Palestinians from their homes.

Addressing a special Cabinet meeting ahead of Jerusalem Day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel “will not allow any extremists to destabilize the calm in Jerusalem. We will enforce law and order decisively and responsibly.”

“We will continue to maintain freedom of worship for all faiths, but we will not allow violent disturbances,” he said. At the same time, he said, “We emphatically reject the pressures not to build in Jerusalem.”

The United States again expressed its “serious concerns” about the situation in Jerusalem, including clashes between Palestinian worshippers in Jerusalem’s Old City, home to sites sacred by Muslims and Jews, and Israeli police, as well as the expected expulsion of Palestinian families.

Washington made its concerns during a phone call between National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart. Sullivan urged Israel “to pursue appropriate measures to ensure calm during Jerusalem Day commemorations,” according to a statement by National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne.

Jerusalem Day is meant to celebrate Israel’s capture of east Jerusalem, home to the Old City and its sensitive holy sites, in the 1967 Mideast war. But the annual event is widely perceived as provocative, as hard-line nationalist Israelis, guarded by police, march through the Damascus Gate of the Old City and through the Muslim Quarter to the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray.

This year the march coincides with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a time of heightened religious sensitivities, and follows weeks of clashes. That, combined with Palestinian anger over the eviction plan in the nearby Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, could set the stage for an especially volatile day.

Amos Gilad, a former senior defense official, told Army Radio that the parade should be canceled or at least kept away from Damascus Gate, saying “the powder keg is burning and can explode at any time.” Israel’s public broadcaster Kan said the final route of the parade had not yet been decided.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

In recent days, dozens of Palestinians have been wounded in clashes near the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City. The site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, is considered the holiest site in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam. It has been a tinderbox for serious violence in the past.

“The occupier plays with fire, and tampering with Jerusalem is very dangerous,” Saleh Arouri, a top Hamas official, told the militant group’s Al-Aqsa TV station.

Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in the 1967 war. The Palestinians seek all three areas for a future state, with east Jerusalem as their capital.

The violence, along with the planned evictions in east Jerusalem, have drawn condemnations from Israel’s Arab allies and expressions of concern from the United States, Europe and the United Nations.
In Sunday night’s clashes, Palestinian protesters shouted at police and pelted them with rocks and bottles, while police fired stun grenades and a water cannon to disperse the crowds. Palestinian medics said at least 14 protesters were injured.
The clashes were less intense than the previous two nights. Police said over 20 police officers had been injured in recent days.
But there were signs the violence was beginning to spread.
Late Sunday, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired four rockets toward Israel, setting off air raid sirens in southern city of Ashkelon and nearby areas, the Israeli military said. It said one rocket was intercepted, while two others exploded inside Gaza. Early Monday, Israeli tanks and artillery struck several Hamas posts near the border in retaliation for the rocket fire. There were no reports of injuries.
Earlier in the day, Israel carried out an airstrike on a Hamas post in response to another rocket attack. Gazan protesters affiliated with Hamas militant group also launched incendiary balloons into southern Israel during the day, causing dozens of fires.
In Jerusalem, meanwhile, Israeli police also clashed with hundreds of Arab students at Israel’s Hebrew University, using stun grenades to disperse the crowd. Police said 15 people were arrested at another protest in the northern city of Haifa.
Jordan and Egypt, the first two countries to strike peace deals with Israel, both summoned senior Israeli diplomats to condemn the Israeli actions.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who acts as custodian of Jerusalem’s Muslim holy sites, condemned what he called “Israeli violations and escalating practices” and urged Israel to halt its “provocations against Jerusalemites.”
At the Vatican, Pope Francis said he was following the events in Jerusalem with worry and called for an end to the clashes.
“Violence only generates violence,” he told the public gathered at St. Peter’s Square.
With tensions high, the Israeli Supreme Court postponed a decision on the possible evictions in Sheikh Jarrah. The decision had been expected for Monday, but was pushed back by up to 30 days in light of “circumstances,” the court said
Palestinians and international rights groups portray the planned evictions as a part of a campaign by Israel to drive Palestinians from traditionally Arab neighborhoods, especially in the heart of Jerusalem. Israel has cast the evictions case as a real estate dispute.
The flare-up in hostilities comes at a crucial point in Israel’s political crisis after longtime leader Netanyahu failed to form a governing coalition. His opponents are now working to build an alternate government. If they succeed, Netanyahu would be pushed to the opposition for the first time in 12 years.