They have to be ready on a moment’s notice because promising clouds are not as common in the Middle East as in many other parts of the world.

“We are on 24-hour availability — we live within 30 to 40 minutes of the airport — and from arrival here, it takes us 25 minutes to be airborne,” said Capt. Mark Newman, a South African senior cloud-seeding pilot. In the event of multiple, potentially rain-bearing clouds, the center will send more than one aircraft.

The United Arab Emirates uses two seeding substances: the traditional material made of silver iodide and a newly patented substance developed at Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi that uses nanotechnology that researchers there say is better adapted to the hot, dry conditions in the Persian Gulf. The pilots inject the seeding materials into the base of the cloud, allowing it to be lofted tens of thousands of feet by powerful updrafts.

And then, in theory, the seeding material, made up of hygroscopic (water attracting) molecules, bonds to the water vapor particles that make up a cloud. That combined particle is a little bigger and in turn attracts more water vapor particles until they form droplets, which eventually become heavy enough to fall as rain — with no appreciable environmental impact from the seeding materials, scientists say.

That is in theory. But many in the scientific community doubt the efficacy of cloud seeding altogether. A major stumbling block for many atmospheric scientists is the difficulty, perhaps the impossibility, of documenting net increases in rainfall.

“The problem is that once you seed, you can’t tell if the cloud would have rained anyway,” said Alan Robock, an atmospheric scientist at Rutgers University and an expert in evaluating climate engineering strategies.

Another problem is that the tall cumulus clouds most common in summer in the emirates and nearby areas can be so turbulent that it is difficult to determine if the seeding has any effect, said Roy Rasmussen, a senior scientist and an expert in cloud physics at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.

Israel, a pioneer in cloud seeding, halted its program in 2021 after 50 years because it seemed to yield at best only marginal gains in precipitation. It was “not economically efficient,” said Pinhas Alpert, an emeritus professor at the University of Tel Aviv who did one of the most comprehensive studies of the program.

Cloud seeding got its start in 1947, with General Electric scientists working under a military contract to find a way to de-ice planes in cold weather and create fog to obscure troop movements. Some of the techniques were later used in Vietnam to prolong the monsoon season, in an effort to make it harder for the North Vietnamese to supply their troops.

While the underlying science of cloud seeding seems straightforward, in practice, there are numerous problems. Not all clouds have the potential to produce rain, and even a cloud seemingly suitable for seeding may not have enough moisture. Another challenge in hot climates is that raindrops may evaporate before they reach the ground.

Sometimes the effect of seeding can be larger than expected, producing too much rain or snow. Or the winds can shift, carrying the clouds away from the area where the seeding was done, raising the possibility of “unintended consequences,” notes a statement from the American Meteorological Society.

“You can modify a cloud, but you can’t tell it what to do after you modify it,” said James Fleming, an atmospheric scientist and historian of science at Colby College in Maine.

“It might snow; it might dissipate. It might go downstream; it might cause a storm in Boston,” he said, referring to an early cloud-seeding experiment over Mount Greylock in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts.

This seems to be what happened in the emirates in the summer of 2019, when cloud seeding apparently generated such heavy rains in Dubai that water had to be pumped out of flooded residential neighborhoods and the upscale Dubai mall.

Despite the difficulties of gathering data on the efficacy of cloud seeding, Mr. Al Mandous said the emirates’ methods were yielding at least a 5 percent increase in rain annually — and almost certainly far more. But he acknowledged the need for data covering many more years to satisfy the scientific community.

Over last New Year’s weekend, said Mr. Al Mandous, cloud seeding coincided with a storm that produced 5.6 inches of rain in three days — more precipitation than the United Arab Emirates often gets in a year.

In the tradition of many scientists who have tried to modify the weather, he is ever optimistic. There is the new cloud-seeding nanosubstance, and if the emirates just had more clouds to seed, he said, maybe they could make more rain for the country.

And where would those extra clouds come from?

“Making clouds is very difficult,” he acknowledged. “But, who knows, maybe God will send us somebody who will have the idea of how to make clouds.”

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Technical problem forces IndiGo plane to land in Karachi

A logo of IndiGo Airlines is pictured on passenger aircraft on the tarmac in Colomiers near Toulouse, France, July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/File Photo

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NEW DELHI, July 17 (Reuters) – India’s biggest airline, IndiGo, said on Sunday it had diverted a plane to Karachi in neighbouring Pakistan due to a “technical defect”, the second such incident for an Indian carrier involving an unscheduled landing in less than two weeks.

The flight was meant to go to Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates from the southern city of Hyderabad. It was not immediately clear when the incident occurred.

“IndiGo flight 6E-1406, operating from Sharjah to Hyderabad was diverted to Karachi. The pilot observed a technical defect,” IndiGo said in a statement to the media.

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“Necessary procedures were followed and as a precaution the aircraft was diverted to Karachi.”

IndiGo was dispatching an additional flight to Karachi to bring passengers back to Hyderabad, it said.

SpiceJet said on July 5 a Boeing 737 aircraft from New Delhi to Dubai made an emergency landing in Karachi due to a fuel indicator light malfunctioning, prompting the airlines watchdog to issue a warning notice. read more

India has seen a strong revival in domestic and international air travel in the months following lifting of COVID restrictions.

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Reporting by Aditi Shah and Neha Arora; Editing by Rupam Jain and William Mallard

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Ukraine Live Updates: As Zelensky Deplores U.N. Inaction, West Turns Up Economic Pressure on Russia

With evidence mounting of atrocities in the Kyiv suburbs, and Russian forces preparing for a new offensive farther east, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine delivered a scathing speech to the United Nations on Tuesday, accusing Russia of a litany of horrors and questioning whether a world body that takes no action to stop a war serves any purpose.

Speaking via video link to the U.N. Security Council, he compared Russian forces to the Islamic State, called for a Nuremberg-like war crimes tribunal and vented his bitter frustration, knowing that the council — where Russia is one of five permanent members with veto power — would do nothing but talk.

“Where is the security that the Security Council needs to guarantee?” Mr. Zelensky said, raising the question of whether Russia deserved to keep its seat on the council. “Are you ready to close the U.N.? Do you think that the time of international law is gone? If your answer is no, then you need to act immediately.”

The chamber fell silent as a short video provided by Mr. Zelensky’s government played, showing some of the hundreds of corpses found strewn around the city of Bucha, northwest of Kyiv, after Russian forces retreated last week — bloated, charred bodies of civilians, including children. Some victims, their hands bound, had been shot in the head.

Mr. Zelensky said that in Bucha, “they killed entire families, adults and children, and they tried to burn the bodies.” Civilians “were crushed by tanks while sitting in their cars in the middle of the road,” he added, asserting that “women were raped and killed in front of their children; their tongues were pulled out.”

China refrained from criticizing Russia in Tuesday’s session, saying that the Security Council should wait until investigations establish the facts in Ukraine. A rising global power, China has drawn closer to Russia in recent years, united by a shared antipathy to the United States. The divisions on the war appeared essentially unchanged since Feb. 26, when 11 of 15 Security Council members voted for a resolution condemning Russia’s invasion, Russia vetoed the measure, and three others abstained — China, India and the United Arab Emirates.

Credit…Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vasily Nebenzya, reiterated his government’s claims — rebutted by ample evidence — that atrocities in Bucha had been faked, or had not occurred when Russians held the city. He made a number of other unsupported claims, including stating falsely that in Ukraine — where the freely elected president is a Jew who lost family members in the Holocaust — Nazis are “running the show.”

After President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia launched the war on Ukraine on Feb. 24, his military became bogged down on several fronts in the face of logistical failures and unexpectedly fierce Ukrainian resistance. Russian forces spent weeks shelling and occupying cities and towns in northern Ukraine, where they took heavy losses as they failed to capture Kyiv, the capital. Last week they pulled back from that part of the country, preparing for what Russian officials and foreign analysts said would be a shift in focus toward eastern Ukraine.

“The next pivotal battle of the war” is likely to be for the eastern city of Sloviansk, according to a report released on Tuesday by the Institute for the Study of War, based in Washington.

Revulsion over the apparent executions discovered in Bucha deepened Russia’s economic isolation, despite its denials of responsibility.

The United States has started blocking Russia from making debt payments using dollars held in American banks, a move designed to deplete its international currency reserves and potentially push Russia toward its first foreign currency debt default in a century.

And the European Union took a significant step toward overcoming resistance to curbing fuel imports from Russia, on which its member nations rely heavily. The European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, proposed cutting off imports of Russian coal — oil and natural gas remain hotly debated — and barring Russian vessels from E.U. ports as part of a new round of sanctions.

The measures, which require unanimous approval, are expected to go to a vote of E.U. ambassadors on Wednesday. Diplomats said the sanctions package would target, among others, two daughters of Mr. Putin. The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, and the chief E.U. diplomat, Josep Borrell Fontelles, announced plans to visit Kyiv this week and meet with Mr. Zelensky.

Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

The Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office said that it, along with the Kyiv police, had discovered what it called a Bucha “torture chamber,” where Russian forces had left behind the bodies of five men, their hands tied, who had been tortured and killed.

Mr. Zelensky reinforced a point that U.N. officials have made repeatedly: The true extent of Ukraine’s destruction and casualties is unknown but far greater than what has been documented, because outside observers have been unable to reach some of the most devastated areas. “Now the world can see what Russia did in Bucha, but the world has yet to see what it has done in other parts of our country,” Mr. Zelensky said.

New York Times journalists on Tuesday were able for the first time to reach the town of Borodyanka, northwest of Kyiv, battered by Russian rockets and airstrikes, where the mayor estimated 200 dead lay beneath the rubble. In the besieged port of Mariupol, local officials have put the death toll in the thousands.

Fierce fighting continues along Ukraine’s southern coast, where Mariupol, largely reduced to ruins by Russian bombardment, is “the center of hell,” said Martin Griffiths, the U.N. chief of humanitarian relief.

More than 250 miles west of Mariupol, explosions shuddered through the port of Mykolaiv, a day after the mayor said Russian strikes had killed 10 people and wounded 46. He said that Russians had hit residential buildings, schools, a hospital and an orphanage in his city since the war began, and had used cluster munitions. Soldiers defending the city said that increasingly, Russian forces were hitting civilian targets.

Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

After four consecutive days of trying and failing to send an aid convoy into Mariupol, where people are desperately short of food, water, power, heat and medicines, the International Committee of the Red Cross decided against another attempt on Tuesday.

Ukrainian officials say the Russians have prevented crucial supplies from reaching the city. Mr. Nebenzya, the Russian U.N. ambassador, said the Ukrainians had blocked the convoy, and he claimed that Russian forces had evacuated 123,500 people from Mariupol.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said that in fact, tens of thousands of Ukrainians, including from Mariupol, had been taken to “filtration camps” in Russia, where family members were separated and people were stripped of passports and cellphones. “I do not need to spell out what these so-called filtration camps are reminiscent of,” she said. “It’s chilling, and we cannot look away.”

Rosemary A. DiCarlo, a U.N. under secretary general, said there was credible evidence that Russia had used cluster munitions — shells that burst open to spew many smaller bomblets over a wide area — at least 24 times in populated areas of Ukraine. Most countries have signed a treaty banning cluster munitions as indiscriminate weapons with a high risk of civilian casualties, but Russia, like the United States, has not.

More than 11 million Ukrainians — about one in four — have fled their homes because of the war, including more than 4 million who have left the country, according to the United Nations, creating Europe’s largest and fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War II.

Credit…Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Russian forces recently captured the eastern city of Izyum, and Western analysts say they are preparing for a drive to the south and southeast, to bolster efforts to seize more of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, where Russia-backed separatists have been fighting for eight years. Many of Ukraine’s best-equipped and most experienced military units have been concentrated in that area, known as Donbas.

“Russian forces continue to make little to no progress in frontal assaults” on the portions of Donbas still held by Ukraine, the Institute for the Study of War reported.

Whether the Russians aim simply to reinforce their units in Donbas, or are planning a more ambitious effort to encircle the Ukrainian forces, capturing Sloviansk is crucial, the institute said.

In the Luhansk region on Tuesday, an attack that Ukrainians blamed on Russian forces hit a storage tank containing nitric acid, releasing a toxic cloud and prompting the regional administrator to urge people to stay inside and close their windows.

The Russian units that withdrew from the region around Kyiv, having suffered heavy casualties, extensive equipment losses and poor morale, the institute said, “are highly unlikely to be effectively deployed elsewhere in Ukraine and are likely a spent force.”

An intelligence assessment released by the British defense ministry was less definitive, but said that any Russian forces redeploying from the north would first need considerable time to repair and replace equipment, and to make up for casualties.

Credit…Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

Reporting was contributed by Carlotta Gall in Borodyanka, Ukraine; Andrew E. Kramer in Kyiv, Ukraine; Rick Gladstone, Michael Schwirtz and Farnaz Fassihi in New York; Dan Bilefsky in Montreal; Steven Erlanger and Matina Stevis-Gridneff in Brussels; Megan Specia and Cora Engelbrecht in Krakow, Poland; Anton Troianovski in Istanbul; and Lara Jakes in Washington.

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Live Updates: Biden Arrives in Brussels for Summits as U.S. Accuses Russian Forces of War Crimes

KYIV, Ukraine — The Israeli government rejected requests from Ukraine and Estonia in recent years to purchase and use Pegasus — the powerful spyware tool — to hack Russian mobile phone numbers, according to people with knowledge of the discussions.

Israel feared that selling the cyberweapon to adversaries of Russia would damage Israel’s relationship with the Kremlin, they said.

Both Ukraine and Estonia had hoped to buy Pegasus to gain access to Russian phones, presumably as part of intelligence operations targeting their increasingly menacing neighbor in the years before Russia carried out its invasion of Ukraine.

But Israel’s Ministry of Defense refused to grant licenses to NSO Group, the company that makes Pegasus, to sell to Estonia and Ukraine if the goal of those nations was to use the weapon against Russia. The decisions came after years of Israel providing licenses to foreign governments that used the spyware as a tool of domestic repression.

Pegasus is a so-called zero-click hacking tool, meaning that it can stealthily and remotely extract everything from a target’s mobile phone, including photos, contacts, messages and video recordings, without the user having to click on a phishing link to give Pegasus remote access. It can also turn the mobile phone into a tracking and secret recording device, allowing the phone to spy on its owner.

In the case of Ukraine, the requests for Pegasus go back several years. Since the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014, the country has increasingly seen itself as a direct target of Russian aggression and espionage. Ukrainian officials have sought Israeli defense equipment to counter the Russian threat, but Israel has imposed a near-total embargo on selling weapons, including Pegasus, to Ukraine.

In the Estonian case, negotiations to purchase Pegasus began in 2018, and Israel at first authorized Estonia to have the system, apparently unaware that Estonia planned to use the system to attack Russian phones. The Estonian government made a large down payment on the $30 million it had pledged for the system.

The following year, however, a senior Russian defense official contacted Israel security agencies to notify them that Russia had learned of Estonia’s plans to use Pegasus against Russia. After a fierce debate among Israeli officials, Israel’s Ministry of Defense blocked Estonia from using the spyware on any Russian mobile numbers worldwide.

Israel’s relationship with Russia has come under close scrutiny since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began several weeks ago, and Ukrainian officials have publicly called out Israel’s government for offering only limited support to Ukraine’s embattled government and bowing to Russian pressure.

During a virtual speech to the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, on Sunday, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine criticized Israel for not providing his country with the Iron Dome antimissile system and other defensive weapons, and for not joining other Western nations in imposing strict economic sanctions on Russia.

Invoking the Holocaust, Mr. Zelensky said that Russia’s war was aimed at destroying the Ukrainian people just as the Nazis had wanted destruction for the Jewish people. Mr. Zelensky, who is Jewish, said “mediation can be between states, but not between good and evil.”

The New York Times reported last month that Israeli officials in August rejected a request by a Ukrainian delegation to purchase Pegasus, at a time when Russian troops were massing at the Ukrainian border. On Wednesday morning, The Washington Post and The Guardian, part of a consortium of news organizations called The Pegasus Project, reported that these discussions dated back to 2019, and first reported that Israel had blocked Estonia’s efforts to obtain Pegasus.

A senior Ukrainian official familiar with attempts to acquire the Pegasus system said that Ukrainian intelligence officials were disappointed when Israel declined to allow Ukraine to purchase the system, which could have proved critical for monitoring Russian military programs and assessing the country’s foreign policy goals.

The official said Ukraine’s view was that Israel, in making decisions about licensing Pegasus, gave more weight to a government’s relationship with the Kremlin than its human rights record.

Representatives of the Ukrainian embassy in Washington and the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to comment. In a statement, NSO said the company “can’t refer to alleged clients and won’t refer to hearsay and political innuendo.”

Both Ukraine and Estonia were once part of the Soviet Union, and since then have had to live in the long shadow of Russia’s military. Estonia is a member of NATO.

Russia plays a powerful role throughout the Middle East, particularly in Syria, and Israel is wary of crossing Moscow on critical security issues. In particular, Russia has generally allowed Israel to strike Iranian and Lebanese targets inside Syria — raids the Israeli military sees as essential to stemming the flow of arms that Iran sends to proxy forces stationed close to Israel’s northern border.

Israel’s government has long seen Pegasus as a critical tool for its foreign policy. A New York Times Magazine article this year revealed how, for more than a decade, Israel has made strategic decisions about which countries it allows to obtain licenses for Pegasus, and which countries to withhold them from.

Israel’s government has authorized Pegasus to be purchased by authoritarian governments, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, that have used the weapon to spy on dissidents, human rights activists and journalists in those countries. Democratically elected leaders in India, Hungary, Mexico, Panama and other countries also abused Pegasus to spy on their political opponents.

Israel has used the tool as a bargaining chip in diplomatic negotiations, most notably in the secret talks that led to the so-called Abraham Accords that normalized relations between Israel and several of its historic Arab adversaries.

“Policy decisions regarding export controls, take into account security and strategic considerations, which include adherence to international arrangements,” the Israeli defense ministry said in a statement in response to questions from The Times. “As a matter of policy, the State of Israel approves the export of cyber products exclusively to governmental entities, for lawful use, and only for the purpose of preventing and investigating crime and counter terrorism, under end use/end user declarations provided by the acquiring government.”

Since NSO first sold Pegasus to the government of Mexico more than a decade ago, the spyware has been used by dozens of countries to track criminals, terrorists and drug traffickers. But the abuse of the tool has also been extensive, from Saudi Arabia’s use of Pegasus as part of a brutal crackdown on dissents inside the kingdom, to Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary authorizing his intelligence and law enforcement services to deploy the spyware against his political opponents.

Last November, the Biden administration put NSO and another Israeli cyberfirm on a “blacklist” of firms that are barred from doing business with American companies. The Commerce Department said the companies’ tools “have enabled foreign governments to conduct transnational repression, which is the practice of authoritarian governments targeting dissidents, journalists and activists outside of their sovereign borders to silence dissent.”

Ronen Bergman reported from Kyiv, and Mark Mazzetti from Washington.

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Factbox: Commodity supplies at risk after Russia invades Ukraine, article with image

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LONDON, March 4 (Reuters) – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the imposition of new Western sanctions against Russia have fuelled fears about supplies of key commodities produced and exported by Russian companies.

See for a Factbox on commodity price gains since the close on Feb. 23, the day before the invasion started.

Following are some details about Russia’s major commodity exports.

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CRUDE OIL

Russia is the world’s third largest oil producer after the United States and Saudi Arabia with output of 11 million barrels per day (bpd).

It rivals Saudi Arabia for the title of the world’s largest oil exporter with around 7 million bpd of crude and oil products exported abroad, of which Asia takes around a half while Europe, the United States and the rest of the world take the rest.

GAS

Russia is the world’s second largest gas producer after the United States and the largest exporter, with flows going predominantly to Europe and covering 40% of the continent’s gas needs.

COAL

Russia is the world’s sixth largest coal producer with output of 400 million tonnes of coal, amounting to more than 5% of global production.

It is the world’s third largest exporter, shipping more than half its output overseas, with China being the main destination.

ALUMINIUM

Most Russian metal producers have so far escaped sanctions imposed by the West since Moscow annexed the Crimea in 2014.

One exception is the world’s largest aluminium producer outside China, Rusal , under sanctions imposed by the United States between April 2018 and early 2019.

Rusal produced 3.8 million tonnes of aluminium in 2021, about 6% of the estimated world production.

Europe, Asia and North America are Rusal’s main markets. Miner and commodity trader Glencore (GLEN.L) has a long-term deal running until 2025 to buy primary aluminium from Rusal.

COBALT

Data from U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) shows Russia produced 7,600 tonnes of cobalt last year, more than 4% of the global total.

Russia was the second largest producer, far behind the Democratic Republic of Congo which produced 120,000 tonnes.

Nornickel (GMKN.MM) is the largest producer in Russia, selling 5,000 tonnes in 2021. Nornickel sells most of its output to Europe.

COPPER

Russia produced 920,000 tonnes of refined copper last year, about 3.5% of the world total, according to USGS, out of which Nornickel produced 406,841 tonnes.

Asia and Europe are the main export markets.

NICKEL

Nornickel is the world’s top producer of refined nickel. It produced 193,006 tonnes in 2021 or about 7% of global mine production estimated at 2.7 million tonnes. It sells to global industrial consumers under long-term contracts.

PALLADIUM AND PLATINUM

Nornickel is also the world’s largest producer of palladium and a major producer of platinum.

It produced 2.6 million troy ounces of palladium last year or 40% of global mine production and 641,000 ounces of platinum or about 10% of total mine production.

GOLD

Russia is the world’s third largest producer of gold after Australia and China and accounts for about 10% of global mine production, which according to the World Gold Council totalled 3,500 tonnes last year.

Russian gold is produced by companies that include Polyus (PLZL.MM) and Polymetal (POLYP.L). Russian miners mainly sell their gold to the country’s commercial banks which then export it.

TITANIUM

Russia’s VSMPO-Avisma (VSMO.MM) supplies titanium to Boeing and Airbus. read more

Data from USGS shows Russia produced 27,000 tonnes of titanium sponge and Ukraine 5,400 tonnes last year, 15% of the global total at 210,000 tonnes.

STEEL

Russia produced 76 million tonnes of steel or nearly 4% of the global total, according to the World Steel Association.

Severstal (CHMF.MM), NLMK (NLMK.MM), Evraz (EVRE.L), MMK (MAGN.MM) and Mechel (MTLR.MM) are Russia’s main producers. They export about half of their production, mainly to Europe.

DIAMONDS

State-controlled Alrosa (ALRS.MM), the world’s largest producer of rough diamonds, produced 32.4 million carats in 2021, about 30% of the global total. It exports mostly to Belgium, India and the United Arab Emirates.

FERTILISERS

Russia is a major producer of potash, phosphate and nitrogen containing fertilisers – key crop and soil nutrients. It produces more than 50 million tonnes a year of the fertilisers, 13% of the global total.

Phosagro (PHOR.MM), Uralchem, Uralkali, Acron (AKRN.MM) and Eurochem are the biggest players.

They export to Asia and Brazil.

GRAINS/OILSEEDS

Russia and Ukraine are both major wheat suppliers, accounting for a combined 29% of global exports, the bulk of which go through ports in the Black Sea.

The movement of vessels on the smaller Azov Sea has already been suspended and if shipments are disrupted from the Black Sea it will leave major importers, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, scrambling to find alternative supplies.

Ukraine is one of the world’s top four corn (maize) exporters along with the United States, Argentina and Brazil.

The two countries also account for about 80% of global exports of sunflower oil.

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Reporting by Pratima Desai, Moscow newsroom, Nigel Hunt and Dmitry Zhdannikov;
Editing by Susan Fenton

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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32 Years After Civil War, Mundane Moments Trigger Awful Memories

“Cards was my childhood, how can I hate it?” Raoul said recently. “And I was the best.”

One night, as Raoul slept — his bedroom window had the dining table nailed to it, to protect against snipers — bombing started. His mother cried out for him, looking frantically until they found Raoul, then 5, crying while hugging a framed photo of the Virgin Mary that had fallen from the wall, praying for his life. He developed a stutter after that.

“When I left Lebanon, I left. I only took my stutter with me,” said Raoul, who has lived in the United Arab Emirates and Poland since leaving Lebanon. “That’s it. That’s the baggage I took with me.”

I was lucky. I did not grow up in Lebanon, at least not full time, as my father worked abroad, waiting for the war to end and the chance to move back.

Yet every summer, no matter what happened — an Israeli invasion, the suicide bombing that killed hundred of U.S. Marines — we went back, to be with our family, to hold their hands and say: We have not abandoned you. It was the most twisted of survivor’s guilt, a role I played every summer until we moved back to Lebanon in the early 1990s when I was 10.

We had our close calls during those summer visits. In 1985, my mother took my siblings and me to run an errand and she pulled off the highway to take another route. Seconds later, a giant explosion ripped through where our car had been idling, killing at least 50 people. We watched the wounded flee, blood streaming down their faces.

Many are left wondering how their adult lives would be better if their childhoods had been different.

For Abed Bibi, a 58-year old married to a friend of mine, he cannot handle the dark.

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UAE plans to scrap monopolies of some big merchant families – FT

A general view of JBR from the Bluewaters Island in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, December 08, 2021. REUTERS/Satish Kumar

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Dec 26 (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates government has told some of its biggest business families that it plans to remove their monopolies on the sale of imported goods, the Financial Times reported on Sunday.

The government did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment but state news agency WAM quoted a Ministry of Economy statement saying a draft law on commercial agencies was still in its legislative cycle and “it is still too early to give details”.

The cabinet referred the draft to the Federal National Council for discussion and possibly more amendments, it added.

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The FT report said the proposed legislation would end the automatic renewal of existing commercial agency agreements in the Gulf state, giving foreign firms the opportunity to distribute their own goods or change their local agents.

“It no longer makes sense for individual families to have such power and preferential access to easy wealth,” the report quoted an Emirati official as saying. “We have to modernise our economy.”

The proposed law must be approved by the Emirati leadership and the timing for that remains uncertain, the report added.

Over the past year the UAE, a growing economic rival of Saudi Arabia, has taken measures to make its economy more attractive to foreign investors and talent.

Earlier this year, UAE said foreigners opening a company will no longer need an Emirati shareholder or agent, after it made changes to UAE company law.

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Reporting by Akriti Sharma in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Maria Ponnezhath; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Emelia Sithole-Matarise

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As Other Arab States Falter, Saudi Arabia Seeks to Become a Cultural Hub

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — A pregnant Saudi woman, far from home, finds herself stalked by inner and outer demons. A wannabe Saudi vlogger and his friends, menaced by the internet’s insatiable appetite for content and more mysterious dangers, try to escape a dark forest. At a wedding, the mother of the bride panics when her daughter disappears with all of their guests waiting downstairs.

These were just a few of the 27 Saudi-made films premiering this month at a film festival in Jeddah, part of the conservative kingdom’s huge effort to transform itself from a cultural backwater into a cinematic powerhouse in the Middle East.

The Saudi push reflects profound shifts in the creative industries across the Arab world. Over the past century, while the name Saudi Arabia conjured little more than oil, desert and Islam, Cairo, Beirut, Damascus and Baghdad stood out as the Arab cultural beacons where blockbuster movies were made, chart-topping songs were recorded and books that got intellectuals talking hit the shelves.

to promote pro-government themes.

In many ways, the region’s cultural mantle is up for grabs, and Saudi Arabia is spending lavishly to seize it.

At the Red Sea International Film Festival, held on a former execution ground, Jeddah residents rubbernecked as stars like Hilary Swank and Naomi Campbell strutted down a red carpet in revealing gowns, and Saudi influencers D.J.-ed at dance parties.

All this in a country where, until a few years ago, women were not allowed to drive, cinemas were banned and aspiring filmmakers often had to dodge the religious police to shoot in public.

CineWaves.

Although Saudi Arabia’s population is about a fifth of Egypt’s, the Saudis are more affluent and wired, making them more likely to pay for streaming services and movie tickets. At about $18, a ticket in Saudi theaters is among the most expensive in the world.

But the kingdom only allowed cinemas to reopen only in 2018 after a 35-year ban. Before that, Saudis escaped to nearby Bahrain or Dubai to go to theaters.

Now, the country has 430 screens and counting, making it the fastest-growing market in the world, with a target of 2,600 screens by 2030, Mr. Abdulmajeed said.

Film Clinic, a Cairo-based production company.

Several Saudi-Egyptian collaborations are in the works, and an Egyptian “Hangover”-style comedy, “Wa’afet Reggala” (“A Stand Worthy of Men”), was the highest-grossing release in Saudi Arabia this year, beating the Hollywood blockbusters.

Saudi productions may also continue to draw acting, writing and directing talent from Lebanon, Syria and Egypt — and will most likely need to do so to reach non-Saudi audiences, said Rebecca Joubin, an Arab studies professor at Davidson College in North Carolina.

“With Saudi opening up, they say in Egypt that it’s saving Egypt’s movie industry,” said Marwan Mokbel, an Egyptian who co-wrote “Junoon,” the Saudi horror film about the vlogger that premiered at the Jeddah festival.

Shahid, its Dubai-based Arabic counterpart.

That has created a big market for Arabic-language content.

Netflix has produced Jordanian, Egyptian and Syrian-Lebanese shows, with varying degrees of success, and just announced the release of its first Arabic-language feature film, “Perfect Strangers.”

Syrian and Lebanese studios that used to depend on gulf financiers — who, they complained, often forced them to water down their artistic ambitions by nixing political themes — are also turning to web series and Netflix for new funding and wider audiences.

a hip alternative to the somnolent broadcast television. Mohammad Makki recalled dodging the police, guerrilla style, to film the first season of his show “Takki,” about a group of Saudi friends navigating Saudi social constraints, a decade ago. Then, it was a low-budget YouTube series. Now, it is a Netflix hit.

“We grew up dying to go to the cinema,” he said, “and now it’s two blocks from my house.”

Saudi women in the industry faced even greater challenges.

When “Wadjda” (2012), the first Saudi feature directed by a woman, was filmed, Haifaa al-Mansour, the director, was barred from mixing in public with male crew members. She worked instead from the back of a van, communicating with the actors via walkie-talkie.

“I’m still in shock,” said Ahd Kamel, who played a conservative teacher in “Wadjda,” which portrays a rebellious young Saudi girl who desperately wants a bicycle, as she walked through the festival. “It’s surreal.”

As a young actress in New York, Ms. Kamel hid her career from her family, knowing they, and Saudi society, would not approve of a woman acting. Now, she said, her family pesters her for festival tickets, and she is preparing to direct a new film to be shot in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi political, religious and cultural sensitivities are still factors, of course.

Marvel’s big-budget “Eternals” was not released in Saudi Arabia — or in Qatar, Kuwait or Egypt — because of gay romantic scenes. Several of the non-Saudi films screened at the Jeddah festival, however, included gay scenes, nudity and an out-of-wedlock pregnancy.

Hisham Fageeh, a Saudi comedian and actor, said officials had told him future films should avoid touching directly on God or politics.

Sumaya Rida, an actress in the festival movies “Junoon” and “Rupture,” said the films aimed to portray Saudi couples realistically while avoiding onscreen physical affection.

But the filmmakers said they were just happy to have support, accepting that it would come at the price of creative constraints.

“I don’t intend to provoke to provoke. The purpose of cinema is to tease. Cinema doesn’t have to be didactic,” said Fatima al-Banawi, a Saudi actress and director whose first feature film the festival is funding. “It comes naturally. We’ve been so good at working around things for so long.”

Vivian Yee reported from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and Ben Hubbard from Beirut, Lebanon. Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, and Nada Rashwan from Cairo.

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The Nobel Peace Prize That Paved the Way for War in Ethiopia

NAIROBI, Kenya — Secret meetings with a dictator. Clandestine troop movements. Months of quiet preparation for a war that was supposed to be swift and bloodless.

New evidence shows that Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, had been planning a military campaign in the northern Tigray region for months before war erupted one year ago, setting off a cascade of destruction and ethnic violence that has engulfed Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country.

Mr. Abiy, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate seen recently in fatigues commanding troops on the battlefront, insists that war was foisted upon him — that ethnic Tigrayan fighters fired the first shots in November 2020 when they attacked a federal military base in Tigray, slaughtering soldiers in their beds. That account has become an article of faith for Mr. Abiy and his supporters.

In fact, it was a war of choice for Mr. Abiy — one with wheels set in motion even before the Nobel Peace Prize win in 2019 that turned him, for a time, into a global icon of nonviolence.

Tigrayans routed the Ethiopian troops and their Eritrean allies over the summer and last month came within 160 miles of the capital, Addis Ababa — prompting Mr. Abiy to declare a state of emergency.

Recently, the pendulum has swung back, with government forces retaking two strategic towns that had been captured by the Tigrayans — the latest twist in a conflict that has already cost tens of thousands of lives and pushed hundreds of thousands into famine-like conditions.

Analysts say that Mr. Abiy’s journey from peacemaker to battlefield commander is a cautionary tale of how the West, desperate to find a new hero in Africa, got this leader spectacularly wrong.

“The West needs to make up for its mistakes in Ethiopia,” said Alex Rondos, formerly the European Union’s top diplomat in the Horn of Africa. “It misjudged Abiy. It empowered Isaias. Now the issue is whether a country of 110 million people can be prevented from unraveling.”

Accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in December 2019, Mr. Abiy, a former soldier, drew on his own experience to eloquently capture the horror of conflict.

his first months in power, Mr. Abiy, then 41, freed political prisoners, unshackled the press and promised free elections in Ethiopia. His peace deal with Eritrea, a pariah state, was a political moonshot for the strife-torn Horn of Africa region.

Even so, the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee knew it was taking on a chance on Mr. Abiy, said Henrik Urdal of Peace Research Institute Oslo, which analyzes the committee’s decisions.

announced to applause that he was nominating Mr. Abiy for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Back in Sweden, Dr. Kontie persuaded Anders Österberg, a parliamentarian from a low-income Stockholm district with a large immigrant population, to join his cause. Mr. Österberg traveled to Ethiopia, met with Mr. Abiy and was impressed.

at least two nominations for Mr. Abiy that year.

In selecting Mr. Abiy, the Nobel Committee hoped to encourage him further down the path of democratic reforms, Mr. Urdal said.

Even then, though, there were signs that Mr. Abiy’s peace deal wasn’t all it seemed.

reopened borders, were rolled back or reversed in a matter of months. Promised trade pacts failed to materialize, and there was little concrete cooperation, the Ethiopian officials said.

Eritrea’s spies, however, gained an edge. Ethiopian intelligence detected an influx of Eritrean agents, some posing as refugees, who gathered information about Ethiopia’s military capabilities, a senior Ethiopian security official said.

The Eritreans were particularly interested in Tigray, he said.

Mr. Isaias had a long and bitter grudge against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which dominated Ethiopia for nearly three decades until Mr. Abiy came to power in 2018. He blamed Tigrayan leaders for the fierce border war of 1998 to 2000 between Ethiopia and Eritrea, a former province of Ethiopia, in which as many as 100,000 people were killed. He also blamed them for Eritrea’s painful international isolation, including United Nations sanctions.

For Mr. Abiy, it was more complicated.

He served in the T.P.L.F.-dominated governing coalition for eight years and was made a minister in 2015. But as an ethnic Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, he never felt fully accepted by Tigrayans and suffered numerous humiliations, former officials and friends said.

visited the ancient Amhara city of Gondar in November 2018, chanting, “Isaias, Isaias, Isaias!”

Later, a troupe of Eritrean singers and dancers visited Amhara. But the delegation included Eritrea’s spy chief, Abraha Kassa, who used the trip to meet with Amhara security leaders, the senior Ethiopian official said. Eritrea later agreed to train 60,000 troops from the Amhara Special Forces, a paramilitary unit that later deployed to Tigray.

advocated an effective merger of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti — a suggestion that dismayed Ethiopian officials who saw it as straight from the playbook of Mr. Isaias.

Aides also saw the remarks as further proof of Mr. Abiy’s impulsive tendencies, leading them to cancel his news conference during the Nobel ceremonies in Oslo 10 months later.

Mr. Abiy viewed the Tigrayans as a threat to his authority — perhaps even his life — from his first days in power.

The Tigrayans had preferred another candidate as prime minister, and Mr. Abiy told friends he feared Tigrayan security officials were trying to assassinate him, an acquaintance said.

At the prime minister’s residence, soldiers were ordered to stand guard on every floor. Mr. Abiy purged ethnic Tigrayans from his security detail and created the Republican Guard, a handpicked unit under his direct control, whose troops were sent for training to the United Arab Emirates — a powerful new ally also close to Mr. Isaias, a former Ethiopian official said.

The unexplained killing of the Ethiopian military chief, Gen. Seare Mekonnen, an ethnic Tigrayan who was shot dead by a bodyguard in June 2019, heightened tensions.

violent clashes between police officers and protesters erupted across the Oromia region, culminating in the death in June 2020 of a popular singer.

publicly appealed to both sides to halt “provocative military deployments.” The next evening, Tigrayan forces attacked an Ethiopian military base, calling it a pre-emptive strike.

Eritrean soldiers flooded into Tigray from the north. Amhara Special Forces arrived from the south. Mr. Abiy fired General Adem and announced a “law enforcement operation” in Tigray.

Ethiopia’s ruinous civil war was underway.

A New York Times reporter contributed reporting from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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Israeli Leader Meets Emirati Crown Prince in Abu Dhabi

JERUSALEM — The Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett, met the de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, on Monday during a historic official visit by an Israeli leader to the Gulf state.

The meeting showcased the consolidation of ties between parts of the Arab world and Israel, which was long ostracized by most Arab governments until last fall, when Israeli officials began to establish formal diplomatic relationships with four Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates.

The four-hour meeting, which lasted two hours longer than planned, also highlighted the shifting geopolitical priorities for some Middle Eastern leaders, for whom the possible threat of a nuclear Iran is now of greater concern than an immediate resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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