Syrian airstrikes intensify in northwest

Civil Defense men search for survivors in a collapsed building after a regime airstrike in Syria’s Idlib province. (AFP)
Updated 13 July 2019

Syrian airstrikes intensify in northwest

  • Unstopped regime bombardment of Idlib region causes more deaths

IDLIB, BEIRUT: Airstrikes targeted opposition-held cities in northwest Syria on Friday, a war monitor reported, widening bombardment of the last major insurgent enclave to areas that had mostly escaped it.
The strikes killed three people in Idlib and three in Maarat Al-Numan, two of the largest cities in the region, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported. Nine more people were killed elsewhere in the enclave, it said.
Another 45 civilians were wounded in the strikes across the opposition-held Idlib region, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Idlib city had been spared strikes by the regime and its Russian ally since they stepped up bombardment of the region more than two months ago.
“It’s the first time that the raids hit the center of Idlib, after being confined until now to its suburbs,” said Observatory Director Rami Abdel Rahman.
Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) in January took full administrative control of the Idlib region, home to 3 million people, although other militant groups and opposition factions are also present.
Russian and regime aircraft have ramped up strikes on Idlib since the end of April, killing more than 580 civilians. More than 100 fighters were killed in clashes between regime and opposition-led forces in northwest Syria, the monitor said on Thursday, as violence raged on the edge of an opposition bastion despite a September truce deal.
The UN said it had received reports that the strikes hit medical facilities and health care workers.


More than 100 fighters and regime troops were killed in clashes in Syria, as violence raged on the edge of an opposition bastion despite a truce deal.

Russian and regime aircraft have since late April ramped up the deadly bombardment of the Idlib region, despite a deal to avert a massive government assault.
Friday’s airstrikes hit residential buildings in one of the city’s largest squares, Sabaa Bahrat, an AFP photographer said. Ambulances were dispatched to the scene to tend to the victims, he added.
Meanwhile in neighboring Hama province, six children were wounded by opposition fire in the regime-held area of Karnaz.
Fierce clashes have raged in the northern sliver of Hama province in recent days, with at least 22 fighters killed on Friday, according to the Observatory.
At least 10 regime troops and a dozen militants and allied opposition fighters were killed in the battle near the village of Hamameyat and its strategic hilltop.
Regime forces retook the area in the north of Hama province overnight into Friday after relentless fighting, according to the Britain-based war monitor.
The recent uptick in violence has forced 330,000 people to flee their homes, according to the UN.

Emirati astronaut prepares to join elite Arab space club

Updated 20 July 2019

Emirati astronaut prepares to join elite Arab space club

  • Hazza Al-Mansoori 'living a dream' as he and backup astronaut train for space mission in September
  • Soyuz-MS 15 launch could be the beginning of a bold new era of Arab exploration of space

DUBAI: More than 30 years after an Arab first journeyed into space, an  Emirati is preparing to become the latest Arab space traveler when he joins a team of astronauts at the International Space Station (ISS) in September.

For months, Hazza Al-Mansoori and backup pilot Sultan Al-Neyadi have been undergoing intensive training in Russia, Germany and the US to prepare for the mission. The first Emirati to travel into space will make the historic journey on board a Soyuz-MS 15 spacecraft due to take off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Sept. 25.

During the eight-day mission, he will conduct a tour of the ISS for Arabic viewers on Earth and carry out 15 experiments for the Science in Space schools competition conducted by Dubai’s Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center.

The crew, who will include an American and a Russian, are allowed to take up to 1 kg of personal items with them on the mission.

“I will take my family photo and share the experience of being in space with them,” Al-Mansoori said. There will also be an image of Sheikh Zayed, the UAE’s founding father, meeting American astronauts in 1976.

“I am also going to take an Emirati flag. I am living my dream and want to give something back to my country.”

‘I will take an Emirati flag into space. I am living my dream and want to give something back to my country.’

Emirati astronaut Hazza Al-Mansoori

Al-Mansoori will join an elite space club comprising Saudi Arabia’s Prince Sultan bin Salman and Syria’s Muhammed Faris. Prince Sultan became the first Arab to travel to space as part of space shuttle Discovery’s crew in 1985. Faris was a crew member of USSR’s Soyuz spacecraft in 1987.

The Emirati astronaut is aware that history is resting on his shoulders. Speaking to the media recently during his training program in Houston, Al-Mansoori  said it is a huge personal honor to be the first Emirati chosen for space exploration.

“I’m excited about the whole mission, but especially to experience the microgravity and be living in the ISS, and conducting daily experiments and working with the amazing group on board,” he said.

Al-Mansoori and Al-Neyadi have been undergoing rigorous training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The program includes familiarization with NASA equipment on board the space station, and handling emergency situations, such as ammonia gas leaks and depressurization.

The Emiratis have been trained to fend for themselves if the return goes off course and they land in the wilderness of Russia.

Speaking of the Soyuz-MS 15 mission, Yousuf Al-Shaibani, director general of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center, said: “We strive to see the UAE Astronaut Program achieve its objective of preparing generations of Emiratis who will contribute to enhancing the country’s position in space science and research to serve the ambitious aspirations aimed at building a national knowledge-based economy.”

The September launch could prove to be the beginning of a bold new era for Arabs and space. Al-Neyadi, the backup pilot, has been promised a seat on a future mission, and the UAE and Saudi Arabia are drawing up ambitious plans for the development of the region’s space industry.