US-backed initiative tackles Middle East’s food-security challenge

Special A joint US-Arab initiative will tackle food challenges in the MENA region through investment in sustainable agri-tech. (AFP/File Photos)
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A joint US-Arab initiative will tackle food challenges in the MENA region through investment in sustainable agri-tech. (AFP/File Photos)
Special US-backed initiative tackles Middle East’s food-security challenge
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Special US-backed initiative tackles Middle East’s food-security challenge
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Updated 06 April 2022

US-backed initiative tackles Middle East’s food-security challenge

A joint US-Arab initiative will tackle food challenges in the MENA region through investment in sustainable agri-tech. (AFP/File Photos)
  • Food security a top priority for policymakers in the MENA region where 50 million are undernourished
  • US and UAE close ranks to boost investment in food security, adopt measures to combat climate change

DUBAI: Millions of people in the Middle East and North Africa were suffering from severe effects of hunger and malnutrition long before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted supply chains and put a squeeze on public spending. Now the war in Ukraine threatens to exacerbate the problem and global food prices are expected to keep rising.

This is happening against the backdrop of an ever-worsening climate emergency, as rising temperatures around the world compound problems such as water shortages, soil degradation, forest fires and rural displacement. This is placing additional strain on agriculture and the food security of some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

In an effort to get ahead of this escalating food crisis, and in recognition of the fact it is intrinsically connected to the climate emergency, an ambitious new initiative led by the UAE and the US aims to double investment in climate-smart agriculture over a period of five years — from the $4 billion announced by US President Joe Biden at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, in November to $8 billion by the time COP27 takes place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, this year.

The initiative — the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate, or AIM for Climate — brings together more than 140 global partners from the public, private and non-profit sectors with a view to doubling investment in science-based and data-driven decision and policy making relating to two of the most pressing issues facing the MENA region: food security and climate change.

Speaking in late February after the inaugural ministerial meeting of AIM for Climate at Expo 2020 Dubai, Mariam Almheiri, the UAE’s minister for climate change and environment, said that although food systems are responsible for as much as a third of greenhouse gas emissions, they can also help to solve the problem.

“Food systems can be a challenge but also a solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” she said. “Over two billion people are directly connected to the food-system sector, so we need to make food systems more efficient, decarbonize and ensure the livelihoods of the people dependent on the sector.”

Noting the dependence of the UAE on imported food — about 90 percent of the country’s food needs are met by other countries — Almheiri said partnerships such as AIM for Climate are critical to help arid countries such as those in the MENA region to learn from the experiences of others. Furthermore, the adaptation of food systems will play a central role in the global drive toward sustainable development.

“The transformation to sustainable food systems is an urgent task and we don’t have a lot of time,” Almheiri said. “The UAE seeks to become a leading exporter of sustainable agricultural solutions for hot and arid climates.”

Emirates Bio Farm is making sure people still have access to healthy produce during the coronavirus crisis and supplies the UAE’s largest supermarket chains and retailers daily with fresh organic produce. (AFP/File Photo)

Part of this transformation will involve the adoption of emerging technologies, which are already enabling the UAE to produce food that would be impossible under normal climatic conditions, such as salmon, quinoa and berries, all of which can now be sustainably farmed in the UAE.

“We are keen to share our experience with our partners and work with other countries to address critical challenges of our food systems,” Almheiri told guests at the Expo 2020 Dubai meeting. “We see ourselves as an open lab to innovate, discover and put forward solutions.”

Although it is exciting to hear about such commitments and learn about the applications of new technologies, Almheiri said, food security and climate pressures cannot be addressed without concrete global targets.

“To move it to the next level, we’ve put tangible outcomes we want to achieve by COP27, which will move to the UAE as we are hosting COP28. We have to look at the deliverables,” she added.

Thomas J. Vilsack, the US agriculture secretary, also spoke at the Expo 2020 Dubai event and lauded the efforts of the UAE to rally nations to a common cause.

“There is an innovative spirit in Dubai that all of us around the world should emulate: A belief in a better and brighter future,” he said.

Securing funding is now critical for the project to succeed, Vilsack said, as he called on governments, the private sector and non-profit organizations to pool their resources to support small farms in developing countries, commit to reducing methane emissions, and promote emerging industries such as nano-technology, artificial intelligence, robotics, sensors and drones.


* 69 million - People in the Near East and North Africa without access to adequate food in 2020, according to FAO.

“AIM for Climate government partners today demonstrated their strong commitment to work together to close the investment gap in climate-smart agriculture and food systems innovation, (which is) needed to address the twin challenges of global hunger and the climate crisis,” said Vilsack.

“We are proud of the wide range of AIM for Climate partners working to deliver impactful solutions for all people. AIM for Climate seeks to expand its network even further with new participants from across the globe.”

Food-security concerns have heightened since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, several MENA nations rely on them for food staples. (AFP)

Food-security concerns have heightened since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24. Both of these countries are major suppliers of wheat and vegetable oils to global markets and several MENA nations rely on them for food staples, including bread.

Financial sanctions imposed on Russia and disruption to shipping have caused prices to rise and are stoking fears of looming shortages. In Yemen and Afghanistan, where hunger is already a fact of life for many, the prospect is terrifying.

The 2021 Near East and North Africa Regional Overview of Food Security and Nutrition report, published by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization in December, revealed that 69 million people in the region did not have access to adequate supplies of food in 2020, and 50.2 million people — 11 percent of the population — were undernourished.

“This is an astonishing figure for our region,” Ahmad Mukhtar, a senior economist at the FAO’s Regional Office for Near East and North Africa in Cairo, told Arab News.

“There are factors that we know, such as climate change, inequalities and protracted conflicts in our region, but one aspect that should be highlighted is that our region is particularly heavily dependent on imported food.”

About two-thirds of food in the MENA region is imported, which leaves it extremely vulnerable to supply-chain shocks, as the COVID-19 pandemic made painfully clear. Progress toward the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal of achieving “zero hunger” by 2030 was badly affected by the health crisis, with many of the achievements of the past decade pushed into reverse, according to a FAO report published in November.

At least 132 million people in the MENA region were plunged into chronic hunger during the pandemic, with up to 14 percent of food production lost along the supply chain before it even reached consumers.

Areas in which progress has stalled, or gone into reverse, include agricultural systems and small-scale food production, which have borne the brunt of the economic toll of the COVID-19 crisis.

The region is also poorly equipped to manage strategic food reserves. Mukhtar said structured plans are needed for the management and distribution of food and to prevent waste. Much of this will depend on the deployment of new technologies and innovations.

“This is an area that needs focus,” Mukhtar added. “There are certain structural issues, such as inequalities, conflicts and climate change, which are all external factors that are beyond the agri-food policy domain, so we have to look at what is in our hands.”


Israel conducts air strike in Syria - Syrian state media

Israel conducts air strike in Syria - Syrian state media
Updated 48 min 19 sec ago

Israel conducts air strike in Syria - Syrian state media

Israel conducts air strike in Syria - Syrian state media
  • There was no immediate statement from Israel, which usually declines to comment on reports of strikes in Syria

DAMASCUS: Israel carried out an air strike near the Syrian capital early Friday, Syrian state media reported, the second attack near Damascus in the last two days.
Reuters witnesses heard at least three big explosions over the city overnight.
Citing a military source, state media reported that Israel fired “sprays of missiles” just after midnight.
“Syrian air defenses intercepted the missiles and shot down a number of them,” the source said, saying the aggression caused some material damage. There were no details about casualties.
The source said the attack hit “a site in the Damascus countryside” but did not provide further details.
There was no immediate statement from Israel, which usually declines to comment on reports of strikes in Syria.
Israel has for years been carrying out attacks against what it has described as Iran-linked targets in Syria, where Tehran’s influence has grown since it began supporting President Bashar Assad in the civil war that began in 2011.
Iranian-backed groups, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and Iraqi paramilitary groups have entrenched positions around the capital and in the country’s north, east and south.
There have been at least six strikes in March alone, according to a tally by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based war monitor with sources on the ground.
Two soldiers were wounded in an Israeli missile attack near Damascus on Thursday, Syrian state media reported.

US, UK sanctions highlight role of Syrian, Lebanese figures in fueling Captagon addiction crisis

US, UK sanctions highlight role of Syrian, Lebanese figures in fueling Captagon addiction crisis
Updated 56 min 47 sec ago

US, UK sanctions highlight role of Syrian, Lebanese figures in fueling Captagon addiction crisis

US, UK sanctions highlight role of Syrian, Lebanese figures in fueling Captagon addiction crisis
  • Sanctions imposed on Syrian-linked figures reflect growing international alarm over Captagon trafficking
  • Arab News Deep Dive shed light on Saudi efforts to stop trade blamed for destroying lives, destabilizing region

LONDON: Sanctions recently imposed by US and UK authorities on two cousins of President Bashar Assad and several Syrian and Lebanese figures reflect growing international alarm over their role in manufacturing and trafficking Captagon, estimated to be worth up to $57 billion to the Syrian regime.

Captagon is a highly addictive amphetamine used throughout the Middle East, with 80 percent of the world’s supply produced in Syria. Multibillion-dollar shipments of the drug routinely leave regime strongholds such as the Port of Latakia.

In a recent Deep Dive published in February, Arab News delved into the dark underbelly of the Captagon industry, speaking to recovering addicts, dealers, traffickers, health professionals, and border officials involved in clamping down on the illicit trade.

“Syrian President Bashar Assad’s family members and associates rely on the illicit drug trade to fund his regime’s violent oppression and commission of abuses against the Syrian people,” Vedant Patel, the State Department’s deputy spokesman, said on Tuesday.

“The individuals and entities being designated today have enabled the Syrian regime to continue carrying out abuses against the Syrian people by providing funds to the regime derived from trade in illicit drugs.

“Captagon trafficking by the Assad regime, Hezbollah and their affiliates poses a significant threat to stability, public health and rule of law in the region.”

Captagon is a highly addictive amphetamine used throughout the Middle East. (AFP)

Trade in the drug is a financial lifeline for the Assad regime during 12 years of civil war, sanctions and diplomatic isolation. According to UK authorities, the business is worth approximately three times the combined trade of the Mexican cocaine cartels.

The Assad regime, Lebanese militia Hezbollah, and other Iranian-backed groups in the region are all known to facilitate the Captagon industry, and in doing so fuel regional instability while creating a growing addiction crisis.

American and British authorities announced the new sanctions on March 28, targeting two of Assad’s cousins, Samer Kamal Assad and Wassem Badi Assad, over their role in the drug trade.

According to the US Treasury, Samer Kamal Assad owns a factory in the coastal city of Latakia that produced 84 million Captagon pills in 2020 alone.

“Syria has become a global leader in the production of highly addictive Captagon, much of which is trafficked through Lebanon,” Andrea Gacki, the senior Treasury official handling sanctions, said in a statement.

“With our allies, we will hold accountable those who support Bashar Assad’s regime with illicit drug revenue and other financial means that enable the regime’s continued repression of the Syrian people.”

The list includes senior regime officials facilitating the trade, to the manufacturers of the drug, and key Hezbollah associates responsible for trafficking it across the Middle East.

Others targeted in the sanctions include Nouh Zaitar, Lebanon’s most famous drug lord who is on the run from authorities, and Hassan Dekko, a Lebanese-Syrian drug kingpin with high-level connections in both countries.

Under the US Treasury action, the US will block any assets on its soil held by the alleged drug traffickers and will make transactions with them a crime. The sanctions also constitute an asset freeze and UK travel ban on the individuals concerned.

Seizures of Captagon have been traced to the Assad regime, with Maher Assad, left, playing a key role in production and smuggling of the drug. (AFP)

“The Assad regime is using the profits from the Captagon trade to continue their campaign of terror on the Syrian people,” Lord Tariq Ahmad, the UK minister of state for the Middle East, said in a statement.

“The UK and US will continue to hold the regime to account for brutally repressing the Syrian people and fueling instability across the Middle East.”

Recognizable by the distinctive twin half-moons logo, which gives the drug its Arabic street name, “Abu Hilalain,” “Father of the Two Crescents,” the pills are easy to make, readily available and relatively cheap to buy.

In the past six years, Saudi authorities have seized a total of 600 million Captagon pills at the country’s borders, including more in the first quarter of 2021 than in the whole of the previous two years.

Almost 120 million pills were seized in 2021, and in August 2022 alone the authorities intercepted a record single haul of 45 million pills.

One of the largest recent hauls was in October, when almost 4 million pills were discovered in a shipment of bell peppers in Riyadh, leading to the arrest of five suspects, in the capital and Jeddah.

Intercepting the drugs at the border is only half the battle against Captagon, which is also being fought by medical professionals at dedicated treatment centers across Saudi Arabia. Thankfully, addicts in Saudi Arabia have the opportunity to seize the lifeline offered by organizations such as the Kafa Society.


• $57bn Estimated value of the Captagon trade to the Bashar Assad regime.

• 80% Proportion of the world’s supply of Captagon produced in Syria.

• 5%-10% Approximate amount of Captagon intercepted by Gulf authorities.

Many young people turn to Captagon to help keep them awake during intense periods of study and exams or to hold down jobs with long or antisocial working hours.

Once addicted, some users will turn to street crime in order to feed their habit, or treat it as a gateway to harder substances. In the process, the addiction can destroy relationships, careers and academic potential, and can lead to arrest, hospitalization and even death.

Captagon has been found to cause confusion and mood swings, ranging from anxiety and extreme depression to impatience, irritability and feelings of anger or rage.

Even more worryingly, it also endows some users with an indifference to pain and fear and a dangerous sense of invincibility — qualities that have reportedly led to the drug being adopted by the foot soldiers of Daesh and other terror groups in the region.

Maher Assad has been affiliated with production and smuggling efforts in his role as commander of the Fourth Armored Division, Caroline Rose told Arab News. (AFP)

In 1981, amid growing evidence of widespread addiction and misuse, including its use as a performance-enhancing drug in sports such as cycling and soccer, Captagon was banned by the US Food and Drug Administration.

In 1986, Captagon’s legal run finally came to an end when the World Health Organization listed fenethylline as a controlled substance under the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, to which Saudi Arabia has been a signatory since 1975.

Since then, the drug has not been produced, sold or prescribed legally anywhere in the world. But in the shadows, criminal gangs had spotted a profitable opportunity and counterfeit versions of Captagon soon began to appear in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Today, the vast majority of the tens of millions of pills flooding the Arabian Peninsula every year are manufactured in Syria with the active involvement of the Assad regime.

According to a report published in April 2022 by Washington think tank the New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy, war-torn Syria has become “the hub for industrial-sized production.”

It adds that “elements of the Syrian government are key drivers of the Captagon trade, with ministerial-level complicity in production and smuggling, using the trade as a means for political and economic survival amid international sanctions.”

The government “appears to use local alliance structures with other armed groups, such as Hezbollah, for technical and logistical support in Captagon production and trafficking.”

80 percent of the world’s Captagon supply produced in Syria. (AFP)

Caroline Rose, a senior analyst at New Lines, told Arab News there was no doubt that “Captagon is being produced and trafficked by an array of individuals that are very close to the Assad regime, some of them cousins and relatives of regime members.”

Most notable among them, she said, was “Bashar Assad’s brother, Maher, who has been affiliated with production and smuggling efforts in his role as commander of the Fourth Armored Division.”

This military unit has been associated with a diverse range of economic activities linked to Syria’s wartime economy, including the collection of levies from traders and smugglers at checkpoints set up at international border crossings under regime control.

On Sept. 20, 2022, the Syrian regime’s role in the drug trade was officially recognized when the US House of Representatives passed H.R. 6265, the “Countering Assad’s Proliferation Trafficking and Garnering of Narcotics (CAPTAGON) Act.”

The Act requires the US government “to develop an interagency strategy to disrupt and dismantle narcotics production and trafficking and affiliated networks linked to the Bashar Assad regime in Syria.”

Speaking on the House floor in support of the Bill, Representative French Hill said that “in addition to regularly committing war crimes against his own people, the Assad regime in Syria is now becoming a narco-state.”

Captagon, he added, “has already reached Europe and it is only a matter of time until it reaches our shores.”



The Kingdom vs Captagon
Inside Saudi Arabia's war against the drug destroying lives across the Arab world



Israel’s relations with Arab world jeopardized by new government’s actions, experts say

Israel’s relations with Arab world jeopardized by new government’s actions, experts say
Updated 31 March 2023

Israel’s relations with Arab world jeopardized by new government’s actions, experts say

Israel’s relations with Arab world jeopardized by new government’s actions, experts say
  • Participants in a discussion hosted by the Middle East Institute said the first three months of the far-right government led by Benjamin Netanyahu have been ‘chaotic’ and its policies are ‘racist’
  • The ruling coalition has overseen the violent suppression of Palestinian protests, with nearly 100 Palestinians killed as Israeli and settler raids have been stepped up in the West Bank

CHICAGO: Israeli journalists, former diplomats and government ministers agreed on Thursday that escalating violence directed toward Palestinians under the rule of the new coalition government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is undermining Israel’s relations with neighboring Arab countries, in particular those that have signed the Abraham Accords or might have considered doing so.

During a discussion hosted by the Middle East Institute, the panelists said the first three months of the far-right government have been “chaotic” and its policies are “racist” and “disconnected from reality.”

Since it came to power in December, the ruling coalition has overseen the violent suppression of Palestinian protests. Nearly 100 Palestinians have been killed as Israeli and settler raids targeting activists have been stepped up throughout the occupied West Bank.

One of the most violent incidents was an assault on the Palestinian village of Huwara on Feb. 27, which an Israeli panelist described as a “pogrom,” a word used to describe an organized massacre of a particular ethnic group. Armed settlers, who claimed to be avenging an attack on Israelis by Palestinians the day before, led a violent, late-night rampage through the village in the northern West Bank, killing one Palestinian and injuring more than 100. The Israeli military, which has responded rapidly to increased tensions related to Palestinian assaults, did nothing to intervene.

“The fact is that this government, in its first three months, is totally dysfunctional and chaotic, and almost any step it takes does not come out of initiative but out of reaction to events,” said Barak Ravid, a veteran Middle East and diplomatic correspondent for Israeli media outlets.

“This is also a government that … is the most far-right government in Israel’s history, with racist and Jewish-supremacist elements in it, in key positions that have a lot of influence over foreign relations and national security, like Itamir Ben Gvir, the minister of national security, or Mr. (Bezalel) Smotrich, the minister of finance.”

Ravid continued: “When Netanyahu came in, he said several things. Firstly, he said he is going have his hands on the wheel when it comes to national security and foreign policy. I think in the three months since this government was formed it is obvious to everybody that this is not the case. He is not running anything, everything is chaotic.

“And secondly, he put forward a pretty ambitious foreign policy agenda, first stressing he will focus on Iran and on countering its nuclear program. And second, he said he will try to broaden the Abraham Accords and get a peace treaty with Saudi Arabia. In the last three months, he has done nothing, not on the first foreign policy goal and not on the second foreign policy goal.”

Ravid said the unrelated issue of the government’s proposed reforms of Israel’s judicial system, which have sparked widespread protests across Israel and international concern, has contributed the problems because it has “hijacked the government’s agenda.”

The violence in the West Bank, the panelists agreed, has caused a spike in killings of Palestinians and Israelis, and put the brakes on any more potential normalization agreements, similar to the Abraham Accords deals with Morocco, Bahrain and the UAE, in particular dashing hopes that there might be one with Saudi Arabia.

Netanyahu’s coalition “knows very well that they are harming relations with the Arab World but they don’t care,” said Nachman Shai, Israel’s former minister of diaspora affairs.

“Don’t tell me they don’t know, when they let Minister Ben Gvir on the Temple Mount (Al-Aqsa Mosque) or other statements were made by coalition members and government ministers. They know very well that they are harming relations with the Arab world but they don’t care.”

Shai described the “Huwara pogrom” as a “terrible event, a tragedy that disrupted our relationship with the United States, with the Jewish community, and with the world. And especially with our relations with the Arab World.”

He said the new government’s policies have drawn anger from the administration of US President Joe Biden, who has been a strong advocate for Israeli security and democracy.

Elie Podeh, a professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said the biggest effect of the coalition’s actions has been to undermine any possibility of normalized relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, which was “Netanyahu’s main target” for his foreign policy.

“Any tension, and certainly an intifada and anything significant that happens between Israel and the Palestinians, especially if Jerusalem is involved, is going to hamper and is going to hurt any developments between the Israelis and the Saudis,” Podeh said. “So, it is not on the horizon, at least the immediate horizon.”

Maya Sion Tzidkiyahu, director of Mitvim, the Israel-Europe Relations Program at the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, said the turmoil during the first 100 days of Netanyahu’s government has not only soured support for Israel among leaders of EU countries, but also the normalized relations with the UAE. She said the Netanyahu government has not recognized the damage it is causing to its efforts to improve relations with the Arab World.

The moderator of the discussion was Nimrod Goren, a senior fellow of Israeli Affairs at the Middle East Institute.

Turkiye’s parliament ratifies Finland’s membership in NATO

Turkiye’s parliament ratifies Finland’s membership in NATO
Updated 31 March 2023

Turkiye’s parliament ratifies Finland’s membership in NATO

Turkiye’s parliament ratifies Finland’s membership in NATO

ANKARA, Turkiye: Turkiye’s parliament on Thursday ratified Finland’s application to join NATO, lifting the last hurdle in the way of the Nordic country’s long-delayed accession into the Western military alliance.
All 276 lawmakers present voted in favor of Finland’s bid, days after Hungary’s parliament also endorsed Helsinki’s accession.
“This will make the whole NATO family stronger & safer,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg wrote on Twitter in welcoming Turkiye’s action.
Alarmed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a year ago, Finland and Sweden abandoned their decades-long policy of nonalignment and applied to join the alliance.
Full unanimity is required to admit new members into the 30-member alliance, and Turkiye and Hungary were the last two NATO members to ratify Finland’s accession.
Sweden’s bid to join the alliance, meanwhile, has been left hanging, with both Turkiye and Hungary holding out on giving it the green light despite expressing support for NATO’s expansion.
Turkiye’s government accuses Sweden of being too lenient toward groups it deems to be terrorist organizations and security threats, including militant Kurdish groups and people associated with a 2016 coup attempt.
More recently, Turkiye was angered by a series of demonstrations in Sweden, including a protest by an anti-Islam activist who burned the Qur’an outside the Turkish Embassy.
Hungary’s government contends some Swedish politicians have made derisive statements about the condition of Hungary’s democracy and played an active role in ensuring that billions in European Union funds were frozen over alleged rule-of-law and democracy violations.
Turkish officials have said that unlike Sweden, Finland fulfilled its obligations under a memorandum signed last year under which the two countries pledged to address Turkiye’s security concerns.
“As a NATO member, we naturally had some expectations and requests regarding the security concerns of our country,” Akif Cagatay Kilic, a legislator from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s governing party, told parliament before the vote. “I would like to underline the concrete steps and their implementation by Finland, which supported and shaped the decision we are taking here.”
Kilic added: “I’m aware that there is a large number of people watching us from Finland. ... We can say to them: ‘Welcome to NATO.’”
Some opposition parties were critical of the Turkish government’s position toward the two Nordic countries.
“Unfortunately, (Erdogan’s ruling party) turned the right to veto Finland and Sweden’s membership bids into a tool for blackmail and threat. We do not approve of it,” said Hisyar Ozsoy, a legislator from the pro-Kurdish party. “We find the bargaining process (to press for) the extradition of Kurdish dissident writers, politicians and journalists ... to be ugly, wrong and unlawful.”
Asked earlier this week about Sweden’s NATO membership, Erdogan told reporters: “There are certain things we expect of them. They must be fulfilled first.”
Sweden, which made constitutional changes to pass tougher anti-terrorism laws, has expressed hope that it will be able to join before NATO’s July summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.
“Sweden faces more significant obstacles in its bid,” Hamish Kinnear, Middle East and North Africa analyst at the risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft, wrote in emailed comments.
“Turkiye is unlikely to approve its acceptance into the alliance before the election in May. The Qur’an burning incident sparked popular rage in Turkiye and President Tayyip Recep Erdogan won’t want to risk angering his conservative base ahead of the polls,” Kinnear said.
The accession of Finland, which has a 1,340-kilometer (832-mile) border with Russia, has geographic and political importance for NATO, said Mai’a Cross, professor of political science at Northeastern University.
“Finland is at a very important strategic location and having that kind of shift from neutrality to respond to Russia’s aggression is bolstering the demonstration of the political will of NATO,” she said.
Cross added that the delay gave Finland more of a chance to prepare.
“Finland is already sitting in the meetings with NATO. It’s already revamping its armed forces,” she said. “So when it steps into NATO formally, it can actually hit the ground running.”

Finland pledges $21.8m to UNRWA for 2023-2026

Finland pledges $21.8m to UNRWA for 2023-2026
Updated 31 March 2023

Finland pledges $21.8m to UNRWA for 2023-2026

Finland pledges $21.8m to UNRWA for 2023-2026
  • Contribution supports agency’s provision of critical services for Palestinian refugees

LONDON: Finland has signed a new agreement with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East worth €20 million ($21.8 million).

The multi-year agreement, which runs from 2023 to 2026, builds on existing cooperation between the parties and follows the previous arrangement, which ran from 2019 to 2022, during which an annual €5 million was contributed to the agency’s program budget.

Paivi Peltokoski, ambassador from the Representative Office of Finland in Ramallah, said: “Finland highly values the indispensable work of UNRWA with Palestine refugees, including in providing basic services, for example in education and healthcare.

“Finland is a long-standing and stable supporter of UNRWA. More than ever, UNRWA needs adequate funds, political support and sustainability to fulfill its core mandate.”

Karim Amer, director of partnerships at UNRWA, said: “On behalf of the agency, I would like to express my gratitude to the government of Finland for its commitment in supporting UNRWA with unearmarked and predictable funding disbursed early in the year.

“This trust is tremendously important for the agency and its stability, especially considering the difficult current financial situation.”

Finland’s contributions help UNRWA provide critical services to Palestinian refugees, such as running 140 healthcare facilities boasting more than 7 million patient visits, and 706 schools with over 500,000 students across its five fields of operation.