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UAE reopens Damascus embassy after seven years | News

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The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has reopened its embassy in the Syrian capital, Damascus, in a move that is seen as a diplomatic boost for President Bashar al-Assad from a regional adversary that once backed rebels fighting against his forces.

The UAE recalled its ambassador from Syria after the start of a popular uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011, which escalated into a brutal and multifaceted war that killed hundreds of thousands of people, forced millions from their homes and destroyed the country’s infrastructure.

Nearly seven years later, and with government forces having regained control of the majority of Syria, the UAE flag was raised again at the building in the Abu Rummaneh district of central Damascus during a ceremony on Thursday attended by diplomats and journalists. An acting charge d’affaires has already started working, an Emirati statement said.

The UAE said the reopening was intended to normalise relations with Syria and curb the risk of regional interference in “Arab, Syrian affairs”, according to Saudi-owned TV channel Al Arabiya. 

“The UAE decision … came after a conviction that the next stage requires the Arab presence and communication in the Syrian file,” Anwar Gargash, the UAE minister of state for foreign affairs, wrote on Twitter.

The UAE’s move, which follows a visit to Damascus by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir earlier in December, is seen as another step in efforts by Arab countries to bring the Assad government back into the fold after years of diplomatic isolation.

Rumours of the Emirati embassy reopening had circulated in recent days as renovation work was seen at the building. 

Previously, the UAE was one of several regional powers that backed opposition fighters in Syria, though its role was reportedly less prominent than those of Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Turkey.

Assad’s forces, meanwhile, have been supported by Russia, Iran and the Lebanese group Hezbollah, among others. Military advances gathered pace this year following the defeat of the last sizeable rebel enclaves near Damascus and the recovery of the southwestern region at the border with Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Rejoining the Arab League?

Syria was expelled from the 22-member Arab League in 2011, and Arab countries have sanctioned Damascus and condemned its use of military force against the opposition. 

However, Thursday’s event, along with al-Bashir’s visit and the reopening of the border crossing between Syria and Jordan, have prompted speculation that relations between Syria and its US-allied, Arab regional neighbours may be beginning to thaw.

The Arab League is set to meet in Tunisia in March, with member state Egypt calling for Syria to be reinstated and the secretary-general, veteran Egyptian diplomat Ahmed Aboul Gheit, saying in April that the decision to suspend Syria had been “hasty”.

“Recent discussions on this issue have not yielded a consensus,” Hossam Zaki, the League’s deputy secretary-general told reporters in Cairo on Monday. 

“This does not rule out a possible change of the Arab position in the future,” he added. 

Gargash told Al Arabiya TV that Syria’s readmission would require Arab consensus.


SOURCE:
Al Jazeera and news agencies

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Ottawa families give mixed reviews for online schooling

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So, how’s it going with online school? Families reached by CBC Ottawa seem to have mixed reviews. 

Masuma Khan is a mother of two. Her seven-year-old, Hana Wyndham in Grade 2, is attending French immersion virtual school. Masuma is grateful it’s an option, but can’t help notice a lot of down time.

“There’s a lot of, ‘are you on mute?’ In terms of the amount of learning that’s actually happening, it does seem to be not that high,” said Masuma.

Parents who kept their children at home this fall are in the minority, but they still form a significant chunk of families in Ottawa.

In the city’s largest school board, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB), about 27 per cent of elementary students and 22 per cent of high school students chose online learning. The Ottawa Catholic School Board says roughly a quarter of its students are online.

For Masuma, the decision to keep her daughter home was complex: extended family members are immunocompromised and she worried the in-person learning environment would be unpleasant because of precautions. She also felt her daughter might benefit from being supported at home.

“She doesn’t necessarily enjoy school. I also found out during the pandemic that she was being bullied [last year],” said Masuma. “So I thought, why not try from home?”

To help her daughter socialize face-to-face with other kids, Masuma enrolled Hana in Baxter Forest School, an alternative education program where kids spend most of their time outside, one day a week. Hana also attends virtual Arabic classes two days a week after school. 

Masuma’s husband and Hana share the living room work space, and Masuma admits he does the lion’s share of helping their daughter stay on task. There is a possibility that he’ll be required to return to his office in the new year.

“When he goes back to work … it’s probably going to be a little bit more difficult.”

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No school closures after Christmas holiday break, says Ontario education minister

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Ontario elementary and secondary schools will not close for an extended winter break, says Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

Closures aren’t needed given Ontario’s “strong safety protocols, low levels of (COVID-19) transmission and safety within our schools,” Lecce announced Wednesday afternoon. He said he had consulted with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams and the province’s public health measures advisory table.

That ended speculation about school buildings remaining closed in January for a period of time after the Christmas break.

Earlier in the week, Lecce told reporters the government was considering having students spend “some period out of class” in January, perhaps switching to online learning.

In a statement, Lecce said that even though rates of community transmission of COVID-19 are increasing, “schools have been remarkably successful at minimizing outbreaks to ensure that our kids stay safe and learning in their classrooms.”

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Windy start to the week in Ottawa

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OTTAWA — It’s a blustery Monday in the capital with wind gusts of up to 50 km/hour expected throughout the day.

Environment Canada is forecasting a high of 4 C with a 60 per cent chance of showers or flurries before the wind dies down later this evening.

There’s a chance of flurries on Tuesday as well with a high of -1 C. The overnight low will dip to an unseasonal -9 C.  

Wednesday’s high will be just -5 C with lots of sunshine.

Seasonal temperatures return for the rest of the week..

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