Libya’s NTC thinks Gaddafi Near Algeria

September 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Joseph Logan and Sherine El Madany

SIRTE (Reuters) – Libya’s new rulers said on Wednesday they believed fugitive former leader Muammar Gaddafi was being shielded by nomadic tribesmen in the desert near the Algerian border, while his followers fend off assaults on his hometown.

Intense sniper and artillery fire from pro-Gaddafi fighters has so far prevented National Transitional Council (NTC) forces from taking Sirte despite more than two weeks of fighting and two full-on assaults.

One of Gaddafi’s last two bastions, it has withstood a siege, NTC tank and rocket fire as well as NATO air strikes, and the United Nations and international aid agencies are worried about conditions for civilians trapped inside.

More than a month since NTC fighters captured the capital Tripoli, Gaddafi remains defiantly on the run pledging to lead a campaign of armed resistance against the new leaders.

Gaddafi himself may be holed up near the western town of Ghadames, near the Algerian border, under the protection of Tuareg tribesmen, a senior NTC military official said.

“There has been a fight between Tuareg tribesmen who are loyal to Gaddafi and Arabs living there (in the south). We are negotiating. The Gaddafi search is taking a different course,” Hisham Buhagiar told Reuters, without elaborating.

Many Tuaregs, nomads who roam the desert spanning the borders of Libya and its neighbors, have backed Gaddafi since he supported their rebellions against the governments of Mali and Niger in the 1970s and allowed them to settle in Libya.

Buhagiar said Gaddafi’s most politically prominent son, Saif al-Islam, was in the other final loyalist holdout, Bani Walid, and that another son, Mutassem, was in Sirte.
Lack of coordination and division at the front-line have been hampering NTC attempts to capture Sirte and Bani Walid.

Fighting continued on separate eastern and western fronts in Sirte on Wednesday and commanders said they would try to join the two fronts together and take the city’s airport.

“There is progress toward the coastal road and the airport…. The plan is for various brigades to invade from other directions,” NTC fighter Amran al-Oweiwi said.

Street-fighting was under way at a roundabout 2 km (1.5 miles) east of the town center, where anti-Gaddafi fighters were pinned down for a third day by sniper and artillery fire.

As NATO planes circled overhead, NTC forces moved five tanks to the front but were immediately met with Grad rockets fired from inside the town, missing the tanks by only yards.

A Reuters crew at the scene saw several NTC fighters flee the front-line under heavy fire while others stood their ground.

“If I die, I’ll die proud,” one fighter shouted as he left a group of hiding comrades and ran back to the front.

“At the buildings! At the buildings!” an NTC commander ordered fighters manning the tanks, in an apparent attempt to target snipers, as thick black smoke rose over the town.

On the western front, fighters leapt into pick-up trucks mounted with machineguns and anti-aircraft guns and raced in the direction of the airport.

Medical workers said 15 fighters were killed in Sirte on Tuesday, the highest single-day death toll. Two more, including a senior NTC field commander, were killed on Wednesday. More than 100 fighters were wounded, many from sniper fire.

NTC fighters captured 60 African mercenaries in Sirte on Wednesday. They said most had come from Chad and Mali to fight with Gaddafi loyalists.

A commander leading the attack on Sirte said on Tuesday he was in talks with elders inside the city about a truce, but the head of an anti-Gaddafi unit on the east rejected negotiations.

In Tripoli, a senior NTC officer said his fighters, on entering Sirte two days ago, had found and seized a helicopter under camouflage that appeared to have been made ready for a swift departure. He told Reuters he suspected the helicopter was assigned for the use of a senior official of the ousted Gaddafi government, possibly one of Gaddafi’s sons.

GADDAFI CLAN STILL VOCAL

As the fighting continues, humanitarian organizations are sounding the alarm about the possibility of civilian casualties in the town. Gaddafi’s spokesman has said NATO air strikes and NTC shelling are killing civilians.

NATO and the NTC deny that. They say Gaddafi loyalists are using civilians inside Sirte as human shields and have kidnapped and executed those they believe to be NTC supporters.

“Our main worry is the people being displaced because of the fighting,” said Jafar Vishtawi, a delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), near Sirte.

Civilians fleeing the town have said there is no power, little water and that the local population is terrified.

Taking the last two Gaddafi strongholds and finding the toppled leader would bring the NTC closer to establishing their credibility as the country’s new rulers.

A Syria-based television station that has been broadcasting audio speeches by Gaddafi, reported on Tuesday that Gaddafi had addressed his supporters and urged them to fight in a speech broadcast on a local radio station in Bani Walid. The report by Arrai television could not be independently verified.

In a separate development, NTC justice minister Mohammed al-Alagi said he was ready to work with Scottish authorities to probe the possible involvement of others in the Lockerbie bombing apart from the sole Libyan convicted for the attack.

His remark reversed a position he took only on Monday, when he said that as far as Libya was concerned the case of the bombing of the U.S.-bound airliner over the Scottish village of Lockerbie with the loss of 270 lives was closed.

Scottish prosecutors had asked Libya’s NTC to give them access to papers or witnesses that could implicate more suspects in the attack, possibly including Gaddafi himself.

(Additional reporting by William MacLean and Alexander Dziadosz in Tripoli, Emad Omar in Benghazi, Samia Nakhoul in London, Christian Lowe and Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers; Writing by Barry Malone; Editing by Peter Graff and Louise Ireland)

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Farouk El Baz

July 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Syed Aslam

FaroukElBozGRAYFarouk El Baz was born in 1938 in the Nile Delta town of El Senbellawein. He received B.Sc. in Chemistry and Geology from Ain Shams University. In 1961, he received a M.S. degree in Geology from the Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy. In 1964 he received his PhD in Geology from  Missouri University. In 1989, he received an Honorary Doctor of Science degree from the New England College. Currently, El-Baz is Research Professor and Director of the Center for Remote Sensing at Boston University.

During the past 20 years in his research at Boston University, El-Baz utilizes satellite images to better understand the origin and evolution of desert landforms. He is credited with providing evidence that the desert is not man-made, but the result of major climatic variations. His research uncovered numerous sand-buried rivers and streams in the Sahara based on the interpretation of radar images. These former water courses lead into depressions in the terrain, which he theorized must host groundwater. His analysis of these data resulted in the location of groundwater in the arid terrains of Egypt, Oman, the United Arab Emirates  and Darfur,  Sudan.

From 1967 to 1972, El-Baz participated in the Apollo Programs Supervisor of Lunar Science Planning at Bellcomm Inc., a division of AT&T that conducted systems analysis for NASA. During these six years, he was secretary of the Landing Site Selection Committee for the Apollo lunar landing missions, Principal Investigator of Visual Observations and Photography, and chairman of the Astronaut Training Group.  After the Apollo Program ended in 1972, El-Baz joined the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC to establish and direct the Center for Earth and Planetary Studies at the National Air and Space Museum. At the same time, he was elected as a member of the Lunar Nomenclature Task Group of the International Astronomical Union. In this capacity, he continues to participate in naming features of the Moon as revealed by lunar photographic missions.

In 1973, NASA selected him as Principal Investigator of the Earth Observations and Photography Experiment on the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, the first joint American-Soviet space mission of July 1975. Emphasis was placed on photographing arid environments, particularly the Great Sahara of North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

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A Summer of “Sandboarding”

June 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

extreme-sports-wallpaper-sand-boardingOne of the biggest complaints often heard by residents, and visitors alike, is the lack of sporting activities in the Middle East. The lack of outdoor activities is not surprising given that eight months out of the year are sweltering with temperatures easily reaching well above 100-degrees Fahrenheit. The greatest pastimes for most denizens of the wealthy gulf regions of the Middle East are usually fine dining or shopping in heavily air-conditioned malls. However, a new breed of daredevil is weathering the scalding desert sun and taking advantage of one of the most plentiful resources in the desert. Sand.

Sandboarding is believed to be a sport invented by the Egyptians, however, there is not credible data available today crediting Egypt with developing the sand sport. Over the past year or so, sandboarding has swept across the Middle East and become the most popular desert activity. Sandboarding combines the best moves and techniques from three sporting activities- skateboarding, surfing and snowboarding. And it requires a very large sand dune in order to fulfill all the twists, jumps and tricks that sandboarders dare to perform.

It can take several minutes for a sandboarder to ascend his sand dune of choice and a mere couple of minutes to cruise down it. For this reason, a sandboarder must be aware of the effects of performing a high-intensity sport in the scorching desert sun and must take preventative measures to ensure his safety and the safety of those sandboarding with him. As a rule, most sandboarders choose the early morning hours just after the crack of dawn to ride the dunes. The heat of the sun in the region reaches full capacity in the early afternoon. Sandboarders must carry several liters of water with them in addition to their sandboard.

One of the most popular sandboarding sites is located in Dubai, which is a municipality of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). There is an abundance of naturally occurring sand dunes in the UAE, some scraping the sky at over 200 ft. However, the largest one stands at a dizzying 300ft. It is known by sandboarders as “Big Red”, however locals refer to it as “Al Hamar”. Regardless of the name, the sand dune is very steep and it is bright red due to high-levels of iron oxide. Daredevils congregate near “Big Red” on weekends and a crowd gathers at the base to watch the show.

Sandboards can be purchased in local sporting good shops in most Middle Eastern countries and are even available online. Ingenious businessman, in both the UAE and neighboring Arab States, have created special sandboarding excursions which provide sandboard rentals and transportation to and from the dunes.

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Worrisome Weather

May 12, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

sun-and-skyThe recent spate of tornadoes that destroyed thousands of lives in America’s Southeast and the recent burgeoning Mississippi River, which has already inundated its banks in one of the worst floods to occur in the state in more than 70 years, are just two examples of disturbing weather trends to occur this year. Many scientists attribute the severe weather to the effects of pollution and global warming. Other parts of the world have also experienced catastrophic weather patterns in recent years and the outlook appears to be worsening.

The arid desert regions of the Middle East make natural disasters, such as tornadoes and large-scale flooding, improbable. However, the heat of the desert sun is a formidable foe in the region as the scalding hot summer temperatures have only continued to ascend over the past few years. Last summer was one of the hottest, on record, in the region as a whole. This summer, meteorologists are predicting an even hotter summer in the Mideast region with some even saying that temperatures could reach 116 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

Public safety is of the utmost concern during the scorching summer months. Most countries in the region do issue hot weather warnings, however much of the advice goes unheeded in specific sectors. In the construction industry, for example, construction workers are often forced to brave the hot conditions in order to make sure that deadlines are met. In summers past, countries like Kuwait and Oman, have grappled with horrific accidents as workers have fainted high atop construction sites and toppled to their deaths.

For this reason, one country is insisting upon new laws to protect workers from exploitation and harm during the unforgiving summer months. Qatar’s Supreme Council of Health (SCH) is going to great lengths to enforce special summer timings for outdoor workers in the country and plans to penalize any company that forces its employees to work outdoors during the peak hours of the sun. According to the head of Qatar’s Occupational Health Department (OHD), “Heat stress and falling from heights are the two major occupational health risks facing workers in Qatar. We have given the top priority to these two issues in our activities aimed to promote occupational health and safety. The guidelines on heat stress are part of this strategy. We are coordinating with the Ministry of Labor to ensure that the companies abide by the new guidelines.”

The SCH has also launched a campaign to educate both employees and company heads on recognizing the signs of heat stroke as well as measures that can be taken for a victim until medical assistance arrives.  A series of public service announcements will also air on state-run television to ensure that the public is prepared for the extraordinarily hot weather.

In a related development, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) has recently recommended that Qatar begin harvesting rain water in the winter months to ensure an adequate supply of water the rest of the year. Despite the severe lack of water in most parts of the Middle East and predictions that the region will face harsh water shortages in the coming years, most countries have ignored the precious resource that harvested rainwater could most assuredly provide.

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Precious Cargo

April 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

sleepycraYou can see them popping their heads through an open car sunroof as it speeds down the highway or bouncing up and down in the back of a car in motion. No, they’re not animals such as a cat or dog traveling with its master. They are unrestrained children living in some of the world’s richest nations. It’s a startling phenomena given that America’s legal system has gone to great lengths to protect American children traveling in motor vehicles in the United States by making seat belts and car seats for young children a part of the law. However, the utter disregard for the safety of children traveling in motor vehicles in the Middle East is alarming. In fact, it is an epidemic that threatens entire generations of children.

This past winter a father in Kuwait paid dearly for his lesson in passenger safety. A family trip to the desert turned tragic as the SUV the father was driving jostled under the bumpy desert terrain. His son was standing upright inside the car as his upper body was outside. All it took was a single bump to throw the son from the car and into the path of his father’s vehicle. With no time to regain control of the vehicle, the father ran over his son and crushed him to death. Stories like this are common all across the Middle East as many parents take the road less traveled by not securing all passengers before turning that ignition key.

The problem is widespread and, while most countries in the Middle East pay lip service to restraining children inside of motor vehicles and do have laws requiring car seats and seat belts on the books, there is no enforcement of vehicular laws meant to protect children. It is up to parents to decide whether or not to restrain their children inside the vehicle. Unfortunately, most parents pay little attention to the safety of their children inside the car.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), for example, has one of the worst records for unrestrained children in the Middle East. According to recent research, car accidents are the number one killer of children in the sheikhdom with 63% of child deaths last year alone being linked to car or roadway accidents. Further, UAE authorities have determined that an estimated 98% of children in the country are not restrained when traveling by motor vehicle.

There is little data regarding children and road safety in other regions of the Middle East as research over the issue in scarce. However the problem will most likely continue to deteriorate, as countless children will undoubtedly pay for the negligence of adults with their very lives.

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