DAMASCUS: Syrian government backers and rebel supporters alike roared with joy on Tuesday when Omar Al Soma scored a 93rd-minute goal, giving their national team a 2-2 draw with Iran.
The goal secured a spot for Syria in the Asian play-offs towards a possible qualification for the World Cup 2018 and sparked rare celebrations at home, where a brutal six-year war has killed hundreds of thousands.
Syria has never yet qualified for the World Cup.
An upbeat mood spread from regime-held Damascus to the nearby rebel stronghold of Eastern Ghouta and as far as the northwestern town of Binnish in Idlib province, now largely controlled by jihadists.
"I cannot describe my happiness... I hope that peace will prevail across Syria," said Lara Hanna, 35, who watched the game in a Damascus coffee shop with her husband and their daughter.
In Eastern Ghouta, a group of football fans gathered in a farm to watch the game while others followed from home.
"Of course we wanted the national team to win," even if Syria is divided into "the opposition and the regime", said 30-year-old Abu Badr.
"The team represents all of Syria and we hope they will win in the play-offs and go on to qualify for the World Cup," he said.
Both regime backers and their foes said Monday´s equaliser, which placed Syria in third place in Group A, tasted like a victory.
Syrian soldier Saeed Ereiji, 34, who wore the national team´s shirt over his military trousers, could hardly contain his joy.
´Tastes of victory´
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"We are so happy with the team´s performance" at the away game in Iran, he said.
"Although we are allies in politics with Iran, this is football and they (Syria) gave the best they had," he added.
In the town of Binnish, Omar Hajj Hamdan, 21, watched the game with his friends in an ice cream shop.
"We are very happy today. The draw tastes of victory," he said.
"There is no link between politics and sports. It´s wrong to say that we should not back the national team because it represents the regime," he said.
"The national team plays for Syria, not for Bashar," he added, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Many had complained online that the team represented the Assad regime, which brutally repressed peaceful anti-government protests at the start of the conflict in March 2011.
Six years on, the conflict has spiralled into a complex civil war that has killed more than 330,000 people and forced millions from their homes.
Hours before the game began, the streets in Damascus went silent, with no cars or passersby in sight.
Most stores were shuttered as football fans flooded to coffee shops and restaurants to watch the game, which state television broadcast live.
At Al-Jalaa stadium in western Damascus, more than 3,000 people gathered to celebrate, many wearing the team´s red and white colours, shouting "Syria... Syria".
Hundreds more fans watched the game on a big screen in the capital´s Ommayad Square, among them university student Amjad al-Hariri.
"The most beautiful thing is to see Syria united and doing well," he said.
PARIS: People who choose alternative cures for common cancers are up to five times more likely to die compared to those opting for standard treatments, the lead scientist of a new study told AFP Friday.
The risk of death five years after diagnosis "was highest for breast and colon cancer," said lead author Skyler Johnson from the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut -- 5.6 and 4.6 times greater respectively.
Lung cancer patients who spurned surgery, radiation or chemotherapy in favour of herbs and vitamin, homoeopathy, special diets or other unorthodox therapies were more than twice as likely to die over the same period, he reported last week in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Five-year survival rates for prostate cancer remained high -- around 90 percent -- for both conventional and alternative treatments, but this was not necessarily evidence that the alternative therapies were as effective.
"Prostate cancer usually grows very slowly in the early stages so few people die," Johnson explained by email.
Faced with poor prognoses or painful courses of chemotherapy, which can cause severe nausea and weakness, many cancer patients place their faith in a wide range of treatments dismissed by most medical doctors as useless at best.
These include probiotics, vitamins and minerals; traditional Indian and Chinese methods such as Ayurvedic medicine and acupuncture; homoeopathy and naturopathy; chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation; as well as yoga, Tai Qi and Qi Gong, all of which involve breath control.
Mind-over-matter approaches also include prayer, meditation, and guided imagery, in which one visualises one's cancer in order to overcome it.
Researchers led by Johnson identified 281 people in the United States with the four most common types of cancer -- breast, prostate, lung and colon -- who turned towards one or more of these unproven treatments when diagnosed.
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The team compared their health outcomes with those of 560 other cancer patients of comparable age, also taking into account race and different health factors.
On average, the first group were 2.5 times more likely to die within five years of diagnosis. "For several reasons, I believe this may be an underestimate," Johnson told AFP.
To begin with, the data only covered only initial treatment, which means that some of the patients who first sought out alternative cures may have switched to standard treatments as their disease progressed, thus prolonging their lives.
It is also likely, he added, that the non-conventional medicine cohort was healthier, younger and had higher income and education -- attributes that translate into better survival rates.
"We don't know the exact number of people that make the decision to pursue alternative medicine instead of conventional cancer treatment," Johnson said.
Patients are reluctant to confide in doctors who are likely to frown upon their choices, he added. But, he noted, all the miracle cancer cures on offer probably add up to a multi-billion dollar business.
MIAMI: Levels of arsenic in the groundwater of eastern Pakistan are "alarmingly high" and pose a significant health hazard to tens of millions of people who drink the water, researchers said Wednesday.
The study in the journal Science Advances is the first to create a comprehensive map of arsenic in the groundwater across Pakistan, and follows earlier, smaller studies that showed high arsenic levels in some places.
Groundwater samples were taken from nearly 1,200 sites throughout the country, and researchers used a model to project the likelihood of increased arsenic concentrations for all of Pakistan.
Areas in eastern Punjab -- which includes Lahore -- and around Hyderabad were especially likely to have groundwater that exposes large numbers of people to arsenic contamination.
Many parts of the densely populated plains along the Indus River and its tributaries showed arsenic concentrations in groundwater were higher than the World Health Organization guideline of 10 micrograms per liter, said the report.
"Very high concentrations, above 200 micrograms/liter, are found mainly in the south," it warned.
Overall, 50 to 60 million people use groundwater which very likely contains more than 50 micrograms per liter, or five times higher than WHO guidelines.
"This is an alarmingly high number, which demonstrates the urgent need to test all drinking water wells in the Indus Plain," said lead author Joel Podgorski, a geophysicist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (Eawag).
People who regularly drink water with high concentrations of arsenic face a higher risk of lung cancer, heart disease and skin disorders.
Researchers are not sure why the arsenic on Pakistan is so high, but one hypothesis is that heavy irrigation could be boosting the arsenic level in groundwater.
Rice, wheat, cotton and sugar cane are heavily farmed in the area.
Podgorski said more water from wells in high-risk areas must be tested, because concentrations of arsenic can vary widely in small areas.
Also, more testing is needed because local aquifer conditions cannot be predicted sufficiently accurately by modeling.
If the suspected link to irrigation practices in confirmed, new techniques would need to replace current practices.
KARACHI: City’s largest public sector health facility, Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, is providing free of cost cancer treatment through latest CyberKnife system which would cost $60,000 in the US.
The CyberKnife System is the first and only fully robotic radiation delivery system. It treats cancerous and non-cancerous tumors and other targets, precisely and accurately delivering radiation anywhere in the body.
‘CyberKnife Robotic Radiosurgery’ department at Karachi’s Jinnah Hospital is one of the 150 such facilities in the world where cancer is being treated with advanced robotic surgery.
According to head of the department, Dr Tariq Mehmood any type of tumor has become curable here because of this robot due to the joint efforts of Patients’ Aid Foundation, a few private institutions and concerned individuals. As reported by authorities, there are only 150 robots present in the world.
This is why in a developed state like the US, treatment of cancer with the help of Cyber Knife will approximately cost $60000 which is done free of cost here without discrimination based on colour or race. Jinnah Hospital annually treats 5000 patients which include people from America, Canada and the Gulf countries.
Pakistan’s only Robotic Surgery Unit for cancer has been treating patients for past many years with fully-funded health facilities.
More units like this are severely needed to diagnose and treat the ever-increasing number of cancer patients and promptly provide them with medical facilities.
To implement these plans in reality, Chief Minister Sindh Syed Murad Ali Shah has resolved to establish a top-notch cancer treatment institute worth a total of Rs6bn.
The CM vowed to build this 12-storey tower for housing cancer patients and said “I am committed with you and with my people to provide them best health facilities, particularly to cure cancer at an early stage”. He praised the efforts of PAF and pledged to fund this cancer institute with Rs3bn.
In an interview, Dr Tariq Mehmood said the radiation used in the procedure only damages 1% of healthy tissues which reduces side-effects of the treatment to a bare minimum.
He also said they receive 31% patients from Punjab, 11% from KPK, 6.5% from Balochistan and the remaining from Sindh, and mainly Karachi. It seems like futuristic endeavors to curb the shortage of world-class medical facilities in Pakistan are underway.
RIO DE JANEIRO: Brazilian scientists on Tuesday began to unleash the first of millions of mosquitoes infected with a bacteria meant to prevent the insects from transmitting the dengue virus to humans.
Thousands of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes carrying the bacteria were released in front of journalists by scientists from the Fiocruz institute in Rio de Janeiro.
The hope is that they will then breed and spread the bacteria, denting the insect population´s ability to spread dengue and other viruses including Zika and chikungunya.
Scientists have been preparing the project -- developed by Australians who first put the Wolbachia bacteria into mosquitoes -- since last year.
Dengue causes fevers, rashes, nausea and in some cases can be fatal, while Zika has been blamed for serious birth defects.
In 2016, fears over Zika led to the United Nations health body to declare an international health emergency, ending in November.
Fiocruz plans to release 1.6 million infected mosquitoes a week, later stepping that up to three million.
"We found that when an Aedes aegypti mosquito has this (bacteria), it blocks or reduces the capacity of the mosquito to transmit viruses like dengue, Zika and chikungunya," said the head of the dengue program at Fiocruz, Luciano Moreiro.
"So the idea is that when they are released, they will transmit this, as if they were immunizing the other mosquitoes and therefore transmission will be reduced."
SYDNEY: Ancient whales had extremely sharp predator teeth similar to lions, Australian scientists said Wednesday in a discovery they believe debunks theories the mammals used their teeth to filter feed like today´s gentle giants.
There are two major groups of whales -- toothed creatures such as killer whales, and baleen, which filter plankton and small fish from the ocean for food with special bristle-like structures in their mouths.
Using 3D scanners, Museums Victoria and Monash University palaeontologists made digital teeth models of fossil baleen whales and today´s mammals from specimen collections around the world.
They found that teeth in ancient baleen whales -- the ancestors of the Southern Right and Blue whale -- were different to the present-day and were instead much sharper.
"These results are the first to show that ancient baleen whales had extremely sharp teeth with one function -- cutting the flesh of their prey," Museums Victoria´s senior curator of vertebrate palaeontology Erich Fitzgerald said.
"Contrary to what many people thought, whales never used their teeth as a sieve, and instead evolved their signature filter feeding technique later -- maybe after their teeth had already been lost."
A previous theory about ancient whales suggested they filtered feed using teeth that when closed formed a zigzag-like sieve, in a similar manner to some living Antarctica seals.
The sieve trapped food in the mouth and also allowed water to flow between the teeth. They were eventually replaced by baleen, the theory added.
The discovery, published Wednesday in the journal Biology Letters, meant "whales completely turned their feeding biology upside down" when they evolved to filter feed, Museums Victoria and Monash University research fellow David Hocking said.
The researchers said there was more work to do to understand the origins of baleen whales, which are Earth´s largest animals, but feed on some of the smallest ocean creatures.
RIYADH: Fizzing with boyish exuberance, Saudi programmer Zainalabdin Tawfiq could be mistaken for a college freshman, but the popularity of his "honesty" app has shone a spotlight on the conservative kingdom´s nascent tech scene.
Tawfiq catapulted to fame when he took time out of his day job as a business analyst last year to develop an anonymous messaging tool called Sarahah -- honesty in Arabic -- that subsequently topped the charts for app downloads.
Initially conceived as a tool for soliciting bluntly frank workplace feedback, Sarahah has found its way into the smartphones of millennials worldwide, even as critics have raised alarm about trolling and privacy issues.
"Sarahah is the digital equivalent of an old-school suggestion box," 29-year-old Tawfiq told AFP, adding that it is built on the premise that stripping users of their identity promotes ruthless honesty.
"Feedback is the goal -- anonymous feedback."
The app has a frugal design and a simple prompt that encourages users to "leave a constructive message :)", with the recipient not allowed to reply but only share it on social media or block the sender.
Its mass appeal stems from the appetite in the Arab world -- notorious for online censorship -- for unfiltered platforms for expression, though Tawfiq said it has also gained a strong popularity in Western countries.
Such has been its power to knock down social barriers that obstruct free speech that one user described it as an app where you can "hit enter on comments you would have otherwise backspaced".
Sarahah has so far drawn 85 million registered users, and rocketed to the top of the Apple app store in some countries, ahead of heavyweights such as Snapchat and Instagram.
- ´Oil´s decline, entrepreneurship´s rise´ -
That a Saudi app could gain such success spotlights hidden potential for tech innovation and entrepreneurship at a time of economic transformation in an ultra-conservative country.
"The success story of Sarahah really proves that Saudi startups can achieve spectacular gains when properly supported," said Nawaf Alsahhaf, CEO of Badir, a government-backed technology incubator that helped Tawfiq.
"There truly is undeniable potential behind Saudi startups we currently incubate," he told AFP.
Saudi Arabia is promoting private enterprise as part of its ambitious reform program to move the kingdom away from its dependence on oil revenues.
"It is clear oil´s decline and entrepreneurship´s rise are necessarily intertwined," the Beirut-based venture capital firm Leap Ventures wrote on its website last year, noting a new growth in disruptive tech innovations in the region.
A new breed of Saudi startups -- from an on-demand roadside assistance app called Morni to Hunger Station, a food ordering portal -- have recently drawn the attention of venture capitalists.
- Minimising abuse -
Tawfiq said he is in negotiations with venture capitalists from the United States, China and the Arab world, without disclosing details, in response to critics who question whether his app can be effectively monetised.
In some gender-segregated Arab societies, men have used Sarahah for secret love confessions, but it has also been used by service delivery companies to harvest constructive feedback and psychiatrists in far-away Mumbai to engage openly on subjects such as sexual health.
Sarahah has come under fire for being a troll magnet -- but Tawfiq said that problem was common to all major social media platforms.
It has also recently been accused of secretly harvesting the address books of users. Tawfiq rejected that claim and said he plans to remove Sarahah´s address upload feature with the next update.
He currently runs a tight ship with another business partner and three customer support executives, but is considering leaving his day job to focus on Sarahah full time.
"I believe that even one case (of abuse) is actually too many," Tawfiq said. "I won´t tell you how, but my aim is to make the job of misusers as difficult as possible."
Facebook Inc is gearing up to make money from WhatsApp, the messaging service used by more than a billion people every day, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.
WhatsApp will be testing new features to make it easier for people to communicate with businesses they want to reach on WhatsApp, the messaging service said on a blog post.
“We’re building and testing new tools via a free WhatsApp Business app for small companies and an enterprise solution for bigger companies operating at a large scale with a global base of customers, like airlines, e-commerce sites, and banks,” according to the blog post.
WhatsApp has already started a pilot program that would feature a green badge next to a business contact, indicating that the business was verified by the messaging service.
"We do intend on charging businesses in the future," Chief Operating Officer Matt Idema told the Journal in an interview.
Reuters had reported in March that a potential revenue source for WhatsApp was to charge businesses that want to contact customers, citing company documents.
Started in 2009, WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook for an eye-popping $22 billion in 2014. While WhatsApp had little revenue at the time of the deal, the purchase price was slightly more than the market value of Sony Corp.
Facebook has not focused on WhatsApp so far. The social network had started showing ads inside its Messenger app in July to further monetize the chat service.
Idema declined to describe the paid features or say when they would make their debut, according to the report. “We don’t have the details of monetization figured out,” he told the Journal.
LAHORE: Pakistan's former T20 skipper and star all-rounder Shahid Afridi has finally agreed to attend the farewell ceremony planned by Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) to honour three former captains of the Pakistan team in September.
As per details, PCB Chairman Najam Sethi on Tuesday announced that board has planned to host a special award ceremony to honour former captains Misbah ul Haq, Younis Khan and Shahid Afridi, to acknowledge their services to exalt Pakistan’s name in the world of cricket . "They served Pakistan for a long period and deserve appreciation," said Sethi.
Earlier, Shahid Khan Afridi had refused to attend the Pakistan Cricket Board's (PCB) event scheduled on September 14 during the tour of World XI to acknowledge the contribution three former skippers of Pakistan in Lahore.
PCB has also planned to honor national top cricketers and umpires in the same award ceremony to encourage them.
United Nations, United States: The UN Security Council denounced North Korea´s latest missile test Tuesday, unanimously demanding that Pyongyang halt the program after a rocket was fired over Japan into the Pacific.
Following the emergency closed-door session called by the United States and Japan, Tokyo´s envoy at the UN suggested that a new sanctions declaration could be issued.
"Next step starting now. We can´t predict the outcome but I certainly hope it would be a strong resolution following this statement," Koro Bessho said.
The 15-member body maintained its unity after Kim Jong-Un´s latest provocation, with China and Russia agreeing to sign up to a statement condemning his isolated regime´s action.
But the US-drafted statement, while noting that the test contravened several previous Security Council resolutions, will not immediately lead to new or tightened measures against Pyongyang.
Still, diplomatic sources told AFP that the speed with which the members had reacted underlined their determination to remain united.
"The Security Council stresses that these DPRK actions are not just a threat to the region, but to all UN member states," said the statement, issued after closed-door talks at UN headquarters.
"The Security Council expresses its grave concern that the DPRK is, by conducting such a launch over Japan as well as its recent actions and public statements, deliberately undermining regional peace and stability."
The Council demanded that North Korea -- already the target of seven rounds of UN sanctions that have done little to quell Kim´s nuclear missile ambitions -- obey all existing resolutions.
This would mean the North "abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner, and immediately cease all related activities."
Pyongyang must not "conduct any further nuclear tests or any further provocation; and abandon any other existing weapons of mass destruction in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner."
Finally, the body "welcomes efforts by Council members, as well as other states, to facilitate a peaceful and comprehensive solution through dialogue."
WASHINGTON: The biggest church in Texas closed its doors, however, mosques stayed open to help victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, which has caused catastrophic flooding and forced thousands of residents to leave their home.
According to a report by Independent, an announcement on Facebook said Pastor Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church had shut due to the storm and asked people to pray for those affected.
“Lakewood Church is inaccessible due to severe flooding! We want to help make sure you are safe,” the post read, according to the Independent report.
Lakewood Church is run by televangelist Joel Osteen.
Pastor Osteen was criticised for not immediately offering 16,000-seater arena that would make for 'great shelter', while dozens of smaller churches and mosques have done so.
It said that mosques in the region are still open and offering people shelter, including the Islamic Society of Greater Houston’s 21 centres.
Damages from Hurricane Harvey could put it among the top five most costly US storms ever, with failing dams and levees driving up loss forecasts, current data modeling showed Tuesday.
Estimates for total economic costs and damages shot up overnight to $42 billion from $30 billion, as flooding began to spread to Louisiana and flood control measures became overwhelmed, according to Chuck Watson, founder of the disaster modeling firm Enki Research.
While authorities were still focused on rescuing survivors, the question of the storm´s aftermath -- and its long-lasting hit to the Texas and US economies -- was only beginning to come into view.
At least nine people are reported to have died as a result of Harvey, the worst storm to strike the US in 12 years.
BEIJING: China said Wednesday it hopes India will "learn lessons" following the end of a months-long military stand-off in a strategically important disputed area in the Himalayas.
The two nations resolved the deadlock over the Doklam area claimed by both China and Bhutan, an ally of India, just days before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to attend a BRICS summit in eastern China.
"Of course we hope the Indian side will learn lessons from this incident and prevent similar things from happening again," Foreign Minister Wang Yi told a news briefing on the upcoming BRICS summit, which includes both nations as well as Brazil, Russia and South Africa.
New Delhi announced Monday that both countries were pulling back their border forces, while Beijing said only that India had withdrawn "all its border personnel and equipment that were illegally on the Chinese territory".
The stand-off began on June 16 and sparked what some analysts said was the worst crisis in decades between the nuclear-armed neighbours.
India does not claim Doklam for itself but is closely allied with Bhutan, which it regards as a buffer against rival China to the north.
India and China have a long history of mistrust and went to war in 1962 over the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.
Wang said "it´s only natural" for two major countries to have "some problems in our interactions".
"We hope that China and India will join hands and work together for the rejuvenation of Asia," he said. "On the border face-off caused by India´s trespassing, that has been settled."
The foreign minister did not say whether Chinese President Xi Jinping and Modi would hold bilateral talks on the sidelines of the BRICS summit next week in the port city of Xiamen.
"The first thing is whether the leaders have the willingness to meet," Wang said.
"If there´s a willingness from the leaders participating (in BRICS), the Chinese side will try to make it possible if our schedule permits."