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Amid War, Assad Approves New Space Agency

Syria's cabinet decides to establish a "space agency", despite the ongoing civil war that has killed more than 140,000.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 3/20/2014, 4:12 AM

Bashar Al-Assad
Bashar Al-Assad
Reuters

Despite the ongoing civil war, it seems to be business as usual in Damascus.

On Tuesday, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad decided to establish a "space agency" to conduct scientific research, AFP reported, citing the state news agency SANA.

According to the report, the Syrian cabinet had approved a project to create the so-called Syrian Space Agency, "with the goal of using space technology for exploration and observing the earth."

SANA said the government hopes to employ such technology "in the service of development."

The three-year civil war has destroyed the economy and seen Western sanctions slapped on Damascus, raising questions about how Syria would fund the new research initiative, AFP noted.

Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi had earlier estimated that the country had suffered $31 billion in damage from the war, a figure nearly equivalent to its GDP.

"The damage caused by the war in Syria stands at 4.7 trillion Syrian pounds," or $31.3 billion dollars, Halqi had told the ruling party's Al-Baath newspaper.

He did not say whether he was referring exclusively to property damage or to some broader measurement.

Syria's uprising began in March 2011 in the form of peaceful protests against Assad but escalated into a full-blown insurgency after the regime launched a brutal crackdown.

Over the last three years, an estimated 146,000 people have been killed and millions have fled the country.

Meanwhile, Prof. Eyal Zisser, an expert on Syria and Lebanon and Dean of the Humanities Faculty at Tel Aviv University, told Arutz Sheva on Wednesday that Assad has managed to stay in power so long because he was not deposed immediately, noting the complexity of divisions among the Syrian population.

40% of Syria's population are minorities who tend naturally to support a dictatorial ruler, according to Zisser, who added that they prefer Assad to regimes which may persecute them, particularly when the alternative is a radical Sunni Islamic regime. Al Qaeda forces have already forced local Druze communities to convert to Islam or die.

He surmised that at the moment, Assad's forces have the upper hand. However, he added that the war is unfolding "like a basketball game", where at a certain minute one team has the advantage, only to be down several points minutes later.

This week, Assad scored an important victory when his troops captured the key town of Yabroud on the Lebanese border from rebel groups.

The Syrian army has been helped by the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group, which sent its fighters to help Assad. The group has sustained heavy losses in Syria and has also been targeted in Lebanon by groups that support the rebels.