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Russia flight bans add to crisis in EU skies

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Russia has banned some Austrian and French flights, amid disarray in European skies after the Belarus hijacking.

Austrian Airlines and Air France cancelled flights to Moscow on Wednesday and Thursday (27 May) when Russia denied them permission to divert around Belarus, in line with new EU sanctions.

Russia did so because “politicisation” of flight routes was “unacceptable and would be dangerous in terms of aviation safety”, Russia’s ambassador in Vienna, Dmitry Lyubinsky, said on Facebook.

The EU was wrong to have accused Belarus of “air piracy” before any investigation had taken place, he added.

“The speedy, fully-fledged normalisation of the air traffic regime between Russia and Austria is in our common interests,” he also said.

But that would be handled bilaterally and Russia would not bow to “political pressure,” he added.

Lyubinsky’s Facebook post was the only official Russian comment on its new air policy.

But Russia’s Belarus-diversion ban has been selective because British Airways and Dutch carrier KLM were allowed to do it.

“It’s an attempt to split European unity by applying pressure to individual airlines,” an EU diplomat said.

“Air France probably has a lot of overflights via Russia to Asia, so Moscow is counting on the French getting scared and giving into its blackmail,” he added.

“[Russian president Vladimir] Putin shows full solidarity with [Belarusian president Alexander] Lukashenko. EU airlines avoiding Belarusian airspace are now banned from entering Russian airspace,” Norbert Röttgen, a senior German MP, also said on Russia’s decision.

“If you still had doubts whether Putin at least tolerates Lukashenko’s state terror, this is your answer,” he said.

EU leaders declared a Belarus air-ban on Monday after one of Lukashenko’s Mig-29s forced down a Ryanair passenger plane flying from Athens to Vilnius to seize a political activist.

EU-based airlines were subsequently “recommended” to avoid Belarus airspace by the European Aviation Safety Agency, an EU regulator in Germany.

A few non-EU carriers, such as Singapore Airlines and Japan’s ANA, have also followed EASA’s guidance.

Meanwhile, EU officials are drawing up a legally binding ban on Belarusian planes entering EU countries’ airspace.

Some EU capitals have already notified Eurocontrol, an international body in Brussels which handles European air traffic, that Belarusian planes were not welcome, but EU institutions do not know which of the 27 member states have done so.

And all that added up to a crisis in European skies, where some 400 civilian planes used to fly over Belarus every day, some 100 of which were operated by EU or UK airlines, according to Eurocontrol data.

Lukashenko’s hijacking also has the potential to cause long-term disruption.

The UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in Montreal, Canada, has the power to expel Belarus from the ‘1944 Chicago convention’ on air safety.

“These unacceptable actions were an attack on European aviation security and put in danger the lives of the passengers and crew as they traveled between two EU capitals,” Irish transport minister Eamon Ryan told an emergency ICAO meeting on Thursday.

If the ICAO did expel Belarus, its planes might not be able to fly anywhere.

But on the other hand, “if ICAO reacts in a soft way, this could encourage other autocrats in the world, and there are many of them, to ignore and disregard the international community,” Elmar Giemulla, an aviation lawyer, told British newspaper The Guardian.

“If this [Belarus-type hijacking] spreads all over the place, we can forget international aviation,” Giemulla, who, in the past, represented families from the MH17 flight disaster, said.

Economic sanctions

The EU is also preparing to impose its first-ever economic sanctions on Belarus, foreign ministers said at informal talks in Lisbon on Thursday.

These will target Belarusian exports of fertiliser and oil products to Europe, which are worth €2bn a year, compared to the €85m that Lukashenko gets from overflight fees.

They will also strike Belarusian banks, German foreign minister Heiko Maas said.

“We are talking about … to what extent Belarus should be allowed in future to issue bonds, by the state or the central bank, in Europe,” he said.

If Lukashenko did not release the activist, Roman Protasevich, whom he snatched off the Ryanair jet, as well as other prisoners, “this will be only the beginning of a big and long spiral of sanctions,” Maas said.

Friends of Lukashenko

But for his part, Lukashenko accused Protasevich of plotting “bloody revolution” and the West of waging “hybrid war” against him in a speech in parliament.

The Belarusian leader is to meet Putin in Sochi on Russia’s Black Sea coast on Friday.

And if Lukashenko looked isolated on the world stage, then he had another friend in the Black Sea region, it emerged, after Turkey’s autocratic president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, watered down a Nato statement on Belarus earlier this week.

A draft Nato communiqué had called for sanctions, including Belarus’ expulsion from a Nato cooperation project.

But Turkey vetoed that, according to two diplomats who spoke to the Reuters new agency on Thursday.

And the final Western allies’ statement was more dovish.

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Syrian Air Defenses Shot Down Rockets Launched Towards Damasсus Vicinity, Russian Military Says

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Middle East

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The Syrian government has repeatedly accused Israel of conducting regular airstrikes on its territory, calling on international organizations to denounce the attacks as violations of Syria’s sovereignty and introduce sanctions against the Jewish State.

Syrian air defense systems have destroyed two missiles fired by the Israeli F-16 fighter jets toward facilities in the Damascus region, Rear Adm. Vadim Kulit, the deputy head of the Russian Center for the Reconciliation of Warring Parties in Syria, said on Sunday.

This comes just after Russian-made Buk-M2E air defense systems downed all the rockets launched at the central Syrian province of Homs in the early hours of Thursday. The Russian military added that two Israeli F-16 fighters fired four guided missiles at several facilities in the Homs province. Syrian state media also attributed the strikes to the Israeli military, which never denied nor assumed responsibility for the attack.

According to the official, in the early hours of Sunday, two Israeli F-16 fighter jets conducted an airstrike against facilities in the Set Zaynab settlement, south of Damascus, without entering the Syrian airspace.

“Both missiles were destroyed by Russian Buk-M2E missile systems that are used by the Syrian military’s air defense forces,” Rear Adm. Vadim Kulit said.

On Monday, state-run Al-Ikhbariya TV reported that the Syrian air defense was repelling an air attack from Israel on the Syrian city of as-Safira in the Aleppo Governorate. The Russian military confirmed later that seven missiles fired by Israeli F-16s at Syria were destroyed by the Pantsir-S and Buk-M2 systems of the Syrian air defense.


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Sputnik / Mikhail Fomichev

Air Defense soldiers during exercise, Ashuluk firing ground

While Israel avoids commenting on foreign reports, as it says, in December, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi did acknowledge that the Jewish State had conducted numerous attacks on Syrian territory to counter what he called Iran’s “retrenchment” in the Arab Republic.

It is also reported that Israel uses Lebanon’s airspace to launch strikes against Syria, while some of the rockets are launched from the occupied Golan Heights, captured by Israel in the 1967 war.



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Jehan Sadat obituary | Women’s rights and gender equality

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Jehan Sadat, who has died aged 88 of cancer, spent most of her life promoting social justice and women’s rights in Egypt. She continued to campaign decades after her husband, President Anwar Sadat, was assassinated, on 6 October 1981, by militants in the army avenging the imprisonment of fellow Islamists and condemning the 1978 Camp David accords that he had signed with Israel.

As a girl in Cairo, Jehan had explored the streets of her neighbourhood of Al-Manial, attributing her self-confidence to her supportive parents. She said that her fight against gender inequality started during her schooldays, when she was encouraged to focus on subjects such as sewing and cooking in preparation for marriage rather than the sciences that would lead to a university career. “I have always regretted that decision. I would never allow my daughters to close off their futures that way,” she wrote in her autobiography, A Woman of Egypt (1987).

Jehan had married Sadat in 1949 at the age of 15; a former army officer, he was twice her age and active in the fight against British control in Egypt. Three years later, he was a key player in the military coup that toppled King Farouk and later brought Gamal Abdel Nasser to the presidency. Sadat took a series of senior positions in the government and after Nasser’s death in 1970 was elected president.

President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, left, shaking hands with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel, with Jimmy Carter looking on at the US presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, in 1978, before the announcement of the historic peace accords the following year.
President Anwar Sadat of Egypt, left, shaking hands with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel, with Jimmy Carter looking on at the US presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, in 1978, before the announcement of the historic peace accords the following year. Photograph: Karl Schumacher/EPA

Jehan had begun her work for women’s rights in the years before she became first lady. She was vocal in condemning female genital mutilation and played a crucial role in the 1960s in the formation of a co-operative in the village of Talla in the Nile Delta that helped local women become skilled in sewing and therefore economically independent of their husbands.

She also headed SOS Children’s Villages, an organisation that provides homes for orphans in a family environment. In 1975 she led the Egyptian delegation to the UN international conference on women in Mexico City and to the 1980 conference in Copenhagen.

Most crucially, she was involved in a campaign to reform Egypt’s status law that would grant women new rights to divorce their husbands and retain custody of their children. The 1975 film Oridu Hallan (I Want a Solution), starring Faten Hamama, illustrated the struggles of Egyptian women under a conservative legal system that suppressed their rights.

“Over half our population are women, Anwar,” she told her husband, as she recorded in A Woman of Egypt. “Egypt will not be a democracy until women are as free as men.”

The attempts of some liberal clerics to defend the limited legal amendments supported by Jehan were undermined by the growing influence of Wahhabi Saudi Arabia. Despite the backlash from conservative Muslims, in the summer of 1979 her husband granted her wish and issued decrees improving the divorce status of women, as well as a second law that set aside 30 seats in parliament for women. These measures, which were later passed through parliament, became known as “Jehan’s laws”.

She was born Jehan Raouf in Cairo, into an upper-middle-class family, the third child of Safwat Raouf, an Egyptian surgeon, and his wife, Gladys Cotrell, a British music teacher, who had met in Sheffield when Safwat was studying medicine at the university. Jehan was raised as a Muslim, according to her father’s wishes, but she also attended a Christian secondary school for girls in Cairo.

She met Anwar at a summer party at her cousin’s house, not long after he was released from prison for the second time for his revolutionary activities; he was also recently divorced. The idealistic Jehan was impressed, despite her mother’s initial misgivings and the 15-year age gap. They married the following year, and went on to have four children.

In 1977 Anwar flew to Jerusalem to propose a peace settlement to the Israeli Knesset, and the following year he signed the Camp David accords, the first peace treaty between an Arab nation and Israel, with the prime minister Menachem Begin and the US president Jimmy Carter. Jehan, who was a far more visible first lady than President Nasser’s wife had been, later made a point of saying that she had stood by her husband even though the peace agreement was highly controversial in Egypt.

Jehan Sadat interviewed by Barbara Walters

While he had believed that the affection of the armed forces for him was such that they could not be infiltrated by militant Islamists, she later told the BBC: “I knew that he would be killed.” She begged him to wear a bullet-proof vest but he refused, and was proud of the new uniform that he had had designed for a military march-past on the outskirts of Cairo.

When people were looking up at the Egyptian air force planes flying in formation and doing aerobatics, Jehan noticed an army truck pulling out of the line of artillery vehicles and stopping in front of the reviewing stands. Then she saw soldiers with machine-guns running towards the stands. Her husband stood up, was riddled with bullets, and fell. The glass through which she and her grandchildren were watching was likewise splintered by bullets, and her bodyguard pushed her to the ground.

Jehan spoke of the shock of losing the man who was not only “my beloved husband whom I loved all my life, but … my partner”.

Her aspiration to higher education had eventually been realised, with a BA (1977) in Arabic literature and an MA (1980) in comparative literature at Cairo University, and she followed these with a PhD (1986). In later years she was a visiting professor at several US universities, and continued to promote international peace and women’s rights. A second book, My Hope for Peace, followed in 2009.

She is survived by her three daughters, Lubna, Noha and Jehan, her son, Gamal, and 11 grandchildren.

Jehan Sadat, women’s rights campaigner, human rights activist and writer, born 29 August 1933; died 9 July 2021

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Why is offshore wind the ‘Cinderella’ of EU climate policy?

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Last year, 2020, saw seismic energy policy shifts across the industry. The global gas-market remains bearish and extraordinarily oversupplied, with gas prices seeing increasing downward pressure and volatility. Whereas, in the face of global turmoil, the offshore wind power industry continues to thrive.

The unprecedented year of new offshore wind farm installations resulted in a total of over 35 GW capacity operating across the globe by the end of 2020.

From the long-term perspective, the Ocean Renewable Energy Action Coalition (OREAC) has set a goal of 1,400 GW by 2050, which means an accelerated pace of global roll-out of offshore wind generation projects.

On 14 July, the European Commission unveiled its long-awaited ‘Fit for 55’ package, seeking to overhaul EU regulation that lines up with the bloc’s target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 55 percent by 2030. This involves a new 2030 renewable energy goal. According to the latest European Commission’s impact assessment it ought to be at least 38-40 percent, in place of the current 32 percent renewables target.

That means that the EU requires 433-452 GW of wind energy capacity by 2030 – a threefold increase on the 179 GW installed today.

Wind power will be the principal delivering technology of the Green Deal in the European Commission’s strategic long-term vision for climate-neutral economy.

Hitting the bloc’s decarbonisation goal will require a 25-fold increase in offshore wind capacity. And an even bigger build-up in the number of new onshore wind capacity.

Industry can deliver the volumes pending a robust EU industrial renewables policy that guarantees that such a grand huge wind power expansion is made in Europe and that the industry is cost-competitive both within and outside the EU.

Technology is not the main barrier to the deployment of wind energy needed for the Green Deal however.

The European energy market is quite complex, serving millions of households and business round the clock. Presently, there are no market mechanisms for offshore grid development projects to be bankable. Countries have diverse capital programmes and market operation rules which hinder investment flows in offshore hybrid projects from being discharged.

The vagueness on future market design and revenues for offshore wind farms prevents the process of an integrated offshore grid deployment.

Grid gridlock?

Today, Europe invests about €40bn a year on grids, which is not enough. In order to expand and optimise Europe grid infrastructure. annual investments in grid infrastructure shall go up to €66-80bn per year over the next 30 years.

Efforts will be needed at offering clarity via regulatory changes to the EU Electricity Regulation, particularly it shall be better addressed how offshore wind projects will be dealt with when it comes to congestion income distribution and cross-border capacity allocation.

The benefits of an accelerated development will be substantial. The EU wind energy sector generates €37bn to EU GDP, operates 248 factories across the EU, and each new wind turbine installed in Europe would contribute €10m of economic activity.

Offshore wind energy is one of the most promising and cost-competitive source of power generation in Europe.

But present policies will not deliver these numbers – neither on volumes, nor on economic benefits. Higher goals are necessary but not sufficient.

Europe requires stronger delivery, monitoring, and enforcement mechanisms to make sure that 2030 is a stepping stone towards a climate-neutral energy system.

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