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NASA’s rover lands on Mars to look for signs of ancient life

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(Last Updated On: February 19, 2021)

The NASA Perseverance rover landed on Mars Thursday, after a 203-day journey traversing 472 million kilometers.

The Perseverance, the most advanced car-sized robot ever sent to the Red Planet, was launched July 30, 2020, from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, United States.

Just minutes after the rover safely landed on Mars, the spacecraft sent back the first two images of the Red Planet.

The mission will look for signs of past microbial life and collect rock and soil samples for eventual return to Earth.

NASA said in a statement, “the size of a car, the 2,263-pound (1,026-kilogram) robotic geologist and astrobiologist will undergo several weeks of testing before it begins its two-year science investigation of Mars Jezero Crater.”

“While the rover will investigate the rock and sediment of Jezero’s ancient lakebed and river delta to characterize the region’s geology and past climate, a fundamental part of its mission is astrobiology, including the search for signs of ancient microbial life. To that end, the Mars Sample Return campaign, being planned by NASA and ESA (European Space Agency), will allow scientists on Earth to study samples collected by Perseverance to search for definitive signs of past life using instruments too large and complex to send to the Red Planet,” the statement read.

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA stated that “Because of today’s (Thursday) exciting events, the first pristine samples from carefully documented locations on another planet are another step closer to being returned to Earth.”

“Perseverance is the first step in bringing back rock and regolith from Mars. We don’t know what these pristine samples from Mars will tell us. But what they could tell us is monumental – including that life might have once existed beyond Earth,” Zurbuchen said.

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Well known cleric shot dead in Kabul while on his way to mosque

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(Last Updated On: March 3, 2021)

Faiz Mohammad Fayez, former head of the Ulema Council in Kunduz province, was shot dead by unknown gunmen in PD17 of Kabul city early Wednesday morning, Kabul police confirmed.

Police said an investigation is underway.

Meanwhile, a number of residents of Kabul’s Sarkutal Golden Township area said Faiz Mohammad Fayez, was shot dead by two unidentified gunmen as he walked to a mosque this morning.

Kabul police spokesman Ferdows Faramarz confirmed the killing but said early reports indicate it was not a “terrorist act” but a case of murder.

This comes after a prominent Afghan cleric Mohammad Atif was killed about a month ago in an explosion, along with two others, in Kabu.

Mohammad Atif, a well-known cleric from a Kabul-based charity group, was killed when an IED on the vehicle he was traveling in exploded.

No group has claimed responsibility for that attack.

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Red Cross resumes work in Afghanistan after suspending operations

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(Last Updated On: March 2, 2021)

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it has resumed work in Afghanistan and is committed to delivering assistance and emergency aid even to areas under the control of warring factions.

The Afghan Red Crescent Society meanwhile said that in 2020 alone, it recovered nearly 2,000 bodies from the warring parties adding that it is concerned about rising casualties from the fighting in Afghanistan.

“In 2020, we were able to collect 1,693 bodies from war-torn parts of Afghanistan,” said Nilab Mobarez, Secretary General of ARCS.

“Considering the ongoing vulnerabilities, including climate change, the quantity and severity of needs in Afghanistan, the Red Cross and Red Crescent colleagues call on us to support our principled activities across Afghanistan and maximize collective aid and its impact,” said Pierre Kremer, Head of Afghanistan Country Office at International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The committee also extended its cooperation with the Afghan Red Crescent for another three years.

The International Committee of the Red Cross suspended its operations in Afghanistan a few months ago due to threats from the Taliban, but resumed its activities in the country after receiving assurances from the group that they could continue with their work.

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Khalilzad meets with key Afghans, explains US position

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(Last Updated On: March 2, 2021)

Zalmay Khalilzad met with a number of influential figures in Kabul on Monday including Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum, Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, members of the Jamiat Party, and others.

Some political figures in Kabul said that during the meetings, Khalilzad explained the position of the new US administration on peace in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, US House of Foreign Affairs Committee Member Michael McCaul says that the purpose of Khalilzad’s visit to Doha, Afghanistan and other countries in the region is to amend clauses of the peace agreement between the United States and the Taliban.

“Khalilzad has come to announce the new US administration’s approach to Afghanistan and the Taliban,” said Abdul Sattar Murad, a member of the Jamiat-e-Islami leadership council.

Khalilzad may also bring new proposals to Kabul and Doha, the two main centers of decision-making on Afghanistan’s future, sources said.

The US House of Foreign Affairs Committee Member Michael McCaul said that the revision of the Doha agreement, of clauses such as the release of 7,000 Taliban prisoners, the reduction of violence and the extension of the mission of foreign forces after May, is Khalilzad’s responsibility.

The US special envoy has also reportedly noted the views of Afghan government officials and the Taliban on the outcome of the Doha Agreement and negotiations between Afghans.

Some politicians said that Khalilzad did not come to Afghanistan and Qatar to announce the decision of the Biden administration but is rather initiating amendments to the US’s plans for Afghanistan.

“The United States wants to establish a partnership in Afghanistan, and this is not far off, and it wants to convince the Taliban to continue their presence,” said Sayed Ishaq Gailani, head of the National Solidarity Movement of Afghanistan.

Khalilzad who started his trip in Germany will continue on to Doha and other countries in the region.

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