x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Delayed flight raises questions about air-traffic control

A nightmare journey for 150 Lebanese nationals returning to Beirut raises some questions, an Arabic newspaper says. Other commentary looks to Syria's future.

"It may sound like a Hollywood scary movie plot, but this actually happened to 150 Lebanese tourists who were stuck in the air between Sharm El Sheikh Airport in Egypt and the Rafic Hariri International Airport in Beirut," journalist Kamel Saleh reported in an article carried in the Lebanese daily Assafir on the weekend.

It didn't start all that well, and it got worse.

The tourists, who had bought an Eid Al Adha holiday package from a Lebanese travel agency, had to wait through four hours of delays before their plane took off from Beirut for an 80-minute flight.

If unexpected waits are, in a way, part of life in Lebanon, the writer said, the fact that the holidaymakers had to wait again for another four hours at the Sharm El Sheikh airport on the way back was hardly tolerable.

But the worst was yet to come.

"The trip started to turn into drama when the captain apologised over the PA system for the fact that the plane 'could not touch down in Beirut airport and we'll be heading back to Sharm El Sheikh'," the writer reported.

"The captain said that while the aircraft had already made its descent into Beirut airport."

The captain gave no further explanation.

"So what some passengers did was walk to the door of the cockpit to ask why they were heading back," the writer said.

"Others were not able to stand on their feet, fearing that something bad might have happened that led to the closure of the Beirut airport."

Evidently, the passengers were extremely stressed out.

"A female passenger suffered a heart attack … and four more passed out, while others cried and wailed," the writer said.

Luckily, there was a doctor among the passengers.

"It was only about 15 minutes later - enough time for passengers to have nervous breakdowns - that the captain clarified: 'There is no problem with the aircraft, it's just that we could not obtain clearance for landing in Beirut International Airport'."

On the ground, the passengers' families were not having a great time either.

"When they asked at the airport about the estimated time of arrival, they were told that it did not show on the computer," the reporter went on.

It was the peak of absurdity when, minutes before landing in Sharm El Sheikh, the captain announced that the plane had finally obtained clearance for landing in Beirut airport, the reporter said.

"So the plane turned around again and finally landed in Beirut at around midnight." It was supposed to arrive at 9.20pm.

On arrival, a father who was travelling with his wife and children kept asking: who made the call to turn away a plane carrying 150 Lebanese passengers from their own country? And why?

US fear of 'hijacked' revolution is telling

It was the first time the US government officially talked about "hijacking an Arab revolution" since the outbreak of the Arab Spring, wrote Jalal Aref in the UAE-based newspaper Al Bayan.

The statement, made by the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on Wednesday, warned of extremists trying to hijack the Syrian revolution.

Ms Clinton warned the Syrian opposition against allowing extremist groups into their ranks. She also said the Syrian National Council must include people from inside Syria and those who are fighting on the front line.

"This US stance has been known for a while, so the novelty is the manner and the timing of this declaration," he said.

It was clear that the growing influence of extremist groups in Syria has caused the US to be less enthusiastic about ending the crisis, as other regional players, particularly Turkey, bet instead on battles of attrition until a political settlement with Russia and China is reached, which would take place only if there is guarantee Syria would not fall into the hands of extremists, he noted.

But is this message limited to Syria? In other words, how about the other Arab revolutions that are being hijacked in the open?

The US has decided to let moderate Islamic groups into power following the Arab Spring, but the developments in Libya and Egypt have forced the US to start rethinking its policy.

Historic opportunity for Syria opposition

As members of the Syrian National Council began their crucial four-day meeting in Doha yesterday, they found themselves before a big challenge that could decide the fate of the council in light of developments in Syria, said the Qatari daily Arraya in its editorial on Sunday.

The armed opposition has been increasingly successful in controlling large areas of Syria. This calls for a different approach from the SNC and various Syrian opposition factions whose main objectives must be protecting people and preserving the country's institutions.

"Most crucial of all is for the participants to reach a formula that unites the efforts of the opposition under a single political project and a single vision that reflects the aspirations of the people," added the paper.

The unification of the Syrian opposition and its agreement on a strategy would work towards the war-torn country's liberation. An integrated opposition that spoke the same language would also create an ethical challenge for the international community that is still divided over Syria. It may be the catalyst that finally prompts the powers-that-be to take practical measures aimed at saving the Syrian people.



* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk