US denounces war crimes against civilians in Sudan; ignores questions about Israel’s actions in Gaza 

US denounces war crimes against civilians in Sudan; ignores questions about Israel’s actions in Gaza 
Beth Van Schaack, the US Department of State’s ambassador-at-large for global criminal justice. (X: @StateDept_GCJ)
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Updated 15 December 2023
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US denounces war crimes against civilians in Sudan; ignores questions about Israel’s actions in Gaza 

US denounces war crimes against civilians in Sudan; ignores questions about Israel’s actions in Gaza 
  • A Department of State official highlighted the efforts by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to ‘track and document’ the ‘myriad’ crimes committed by warring military factions in Sudan 
  • Officials made it clear that only questions about Sudan would be accepted, so numerous requests for an explanation of the differing US stance on Israeli attacks in Gaza were not addressed 

CHICAGO: Biden administration officials on Thursday ramped up their calls for the prosecution of warring Sudanese factions for war crimes against civilians but brushed aside questions about alleged Israeli war crimes against civilians in the Gaza Strip. 

Beth Van Schaack, the US Department of State’s ambassador-at-large for global criminal justice, described the situation in Sudan, caused by the conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces and rival militia the Rapid Support Forces, as “dire.” She said “at least 10,000” people have been killed and more than 6.8 million displaced. 

Van Schaack highlighted the continuing efforts by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to “track and document” the “myriad” crimes in Sudan, in particular denounced the violence against civilians, women and children. 

However, she declined to respond to numerous questions about similar allegations of war crimes against civilians in Gaza. 

“We have all seen chilling media reports that reflect that thousands of people have been swept into detention sites in and around Khartoum, where we know that some have been tortured and some have been killed,” Van Schaack said during an online briefing attended by Arab News. 

“The war has also been waged on the bodies of women and girls who have been terrorized by deliberate, systemic sexual violence inflicted by the RSF and its allied militia forces. They are attacked in their homes. They are kidnapped from the streets. Women and girls have been subjected to conflict-related sexual violence including rape, gang rape and sexual slavery. Survivors are often unable to access any kinds of medical care or psychological support, thus leaving lasting trauma. 

“In Darfur in particular we have witnessed an explosion of violence against civilians along ethnic lines. People are not safe in their homes, in mosques or in schools. We have read numerous, credible reports of RSF and affiliated Arab militias seeking out, in particular, Masalit people and members of other African communities, hunting for men and boys, shooting people desperately fleeing for their lives, stealing everything of value, and burning the rest.” 

Van Schaack continued: “We’re also really looking for ways to use some of our many sanctions authorities to put pressure on individuals and entities that are undermining peace in the region. So back in May we announced a new executive order, President Biden announced, that will allow for the designation of those responsible for targeting civilians and other serious human rights abuses." 

 

 

She said the US was encouraged to hear that allegations of “war crimes and crimes against humanity” in Sudan “may be subject to investigation and prosecution” by the International Criminal Court. 

“The laws of war demand that civilians and civilian objects, the civilian infrastructure, are immune from deliberate attack,” Van Schaack said. “And so warring parties are only supposed to engage with military objectives — so with troops or with military materiel, weapons, caches, etc. 

“Unfortunately, we do see that some of these military objectives are within civilian areas. And so the message is always that the parties need to be extremely precise and deliberate in engaging with those military objectives so that they don’t inadvertently harm civilians that are in the immediate vicinity.” 

Governments have a responsibility to protect civilians when targeting militant or armed groups, she added. 

“There is a principle of proportionality that is in play here, where you’re allowed to target military objectives but you must do so with a level and degree of force that is proportionate to the value of that 

military objective,” she said. “And when you have military objectives collocated with civilians, that proportionality analysis becomes extremely important. 

“So, part of our messaging with the parties has been to adhere to their responsibilities and take all measures possible to protect civilian life but also to protect the civilian infrastructure.” 

Van Schaak said she is also concerned by the targeting of journalists in Sudan and praised representatives of the media for their role in documenting the conflict. 

“It’s a dangerous situation and I know that many of you are putting yourselves at personal risk to travel to these regions in order to be able to cover them firsthand, and to hear from survivors themselves so that those of us outside the region are able to learn more about what’s going on, so that we can inform and strengthen our own efforts to try and bring about a cessation of hostilities, bring the parties together, and chart a path forward for a civilian-led democratic future for the Sudanese people,” she said. 

“So we’re really very grateful for all of your hard work and want to acknowledge that.” 

Numerous questions were submitted asking Van Schaack to explain the differing stances of the Biden administration on the conflict in Sudan compared with the violence in the Gaza Strip, but those questions were ignored. 

At the start of the briefing, the Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub moderator, Tiffany Jackson-Zunker, made it clear that no questions about issues outside of the Sudan conflict would be answered. 

“We ask that you limit yourself to one question related to the topic of today’s briefing, the determination that members of the SAF and the RSF have committed war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing in Sudan,” she said. 

Van Schaack said Blinken is determined “to bear witness to and to shine a light on the abuses suffered by the Sudanese people at the hands of the very forces who are meant to protect them.” 

The Biden administration hopes “to rally the international community to help us end the violence, address the humanitarian crisis, and promote justice for survivors and victims,” she added


Ukraine uses long-range missiles secretly provided by US to hit Russian-held areas, officials say

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Ukraine uses long-range missiles secretly provided by US to hit Russian-held areas, officials say

Ukraine uses long-range missiles secretly provided by US to hit Russian-held areas, officials say
The new missiles give Ukraine nearly double the striking distance up to 300 kilometers
The two US officials would not provide the exact number of missiles given last month or in the latest aid package, which totals about $1 billion

WASHINGTON: Ukraine for the first time has begun using long-range ballistic missiles provided secretly by the United States, bombing a Russian military airfield in Crimea last week and Russian forces in another occupied area overnight, American officials said Wednesday.
Long sought by Ukrainian leaders, the new missiles give Ukraine nearly double the striking distance — up to 300 kilometers (190 miles) — that it had with the mid-range version of the weapon that it received from the US last October. One of the officials said the US is providing more of these missiles in a new military aid package signed by President Joe Biden on Wednesday.
Biden approved delivery of the long-range Army Tactical Missile System, known as ATACMS, in February, and then in March the US included a “significant” number of them in a $300 million aid package announced, one official said.
The two US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the delivery before it became public, would not provide the exact number of missiles given last month or in the latest aid package, which totals about $1 billion.
Ukraine has been forced to ration its weapons and is facing increasing Russian attacks. Ukraine had been begging for the long-range system because the missiles provide a critical ability to strike Russian targets that are farther away, allowing Ukrainian forces to stay safely out of range.
Information about the delivery was kept so quiet that lawmakers and others in recent days have been demanding that the US send the weapons — not knowing they were already in Ukraine.
For months, the US resisted sending Ukraine the long-range missiles out of concern that Kyiv could use them to hit deep into Russian territory, enraging Moscow and escalating the conflict. That was a key reason the administration sent the mid-range version, with a range of about 160 kilometers (roughly 100 miles), in October instead.
Adm. Christopher Grady, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Wednesday that the White House and military planners looked carefully at the risks of providing long-range fires to Ukraine and determined that the time was right to provide them now.
He told The Associated Press in an interview that long-range weapons will help Ukraine take out Russian logistics nodes and troop concentrations that are not on the front lines. Grady declined to identify what specific weapons were being provided but said they will be “very disruptive if used properly, and I’m confident they will be.”
Like many of the other sophisticated weapons systems provided to Ukraine, the administration weighed whether their use would risk further escalating the conflict. The administration is continuing to make clear that the weapons cannot be used to hit targets in Russia — only those inside Ukrainian territory, according to one of the US officials.
“I think the time is right, and the boss (Biden) made the decision the time is right to provide these based on where the fight is right now,” Grady said Wednesday. “I think it was a very well considered decision, and we really wrung it out — but again, any time you introduce a new system, any change — into a battlefield, you have to think through the escalatory nature of it.”
Ukrainian officials haven’t publicly acknowledged the receipt or use of long-range ATACMS. But in thanking Congress for passing the new aid bill Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky noted on the social platform X that “Ukraine’s long-range capabilities, artillery and air defense are extremely important tools for the quick restoration of a just peace.”
One of the US officials said the Biden administration warned Russia last year that if Moscow acquired and used long-range ballistic missiles in Ukraine, Washington would provide the same capability to Kyiv.
Russia got some of those weapons from North Korea and has used them on the battlefield in Ukraine, said the official, prompting the Biden administration to greenlight the new long-range missiles.
The US had refused to confirm that the long-range missiles were given to Ukraine until they were actually used on the battlefield and Kyiv leaders approved the public release. One official said the weapons were used early last week to strike the airfield in Dzhankoi, a city in Crimea, a peninsula that Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014. They were used again overnight east of the occupied city of Berdyansk.
Videos on social media last week showed the explosions at the military airfield, but officials at the time would not confirm it was the ATACMS.
Ukraine’s first use of the weapon came as political gridlock in Congress had delayed approval of a $95 billion foreign aid package for months, including funding for Ukraine, Israel and other allies. Facing acute shortages of artillery and air defense systems, Ukraine has been rationing its munitions as US funding was delayed.
With the war now in its third year, Russia used the delay in US weapons deliveries and its own edge in firepower and personnel to step up attacks across eastern Ukraine. It has increasingly used satellite-guided gliding bombs — dropped from planes from a safe distance — to pummel Ukrainian forces beset by a shortage of troops and ammunition.
The mid-range missiles provided last year, and some of the long-range ones sent more recently, carry cluster munitions that open in the air when fired, releasing hundreds of bomblets rather than a single warhead. Others sent recently have a single warhead.
One critical factor in the March decision to send the weapons was the US Army’s ability to begin replacing the older ATACMS. The Army is now buying the Precision Strike Missile, so is more comfortable taking ATACMS off the shelves to provide to Ukraine, the official said.

Anger among Ukrainians in Poland as Kyiv halts passport renewals

Anger among Ukrainians in Poland as Kyiv halts passport renewals
Updated 24 April 2024
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Anger among Ukrainians in Poland as Kyiv halts passport renewals

Anger among Ukrainians in Poland as Kyiv halts passport renewals
  • “Staying abroad does not relieve a citizen of his or her duties to the homeland,” Kuleba posted on social media
  • The agency issuing passports to Ukrainian residents in Warsaw blamed a “technical error” for the problems, not the new directive from Kyiv

WARSAW: Hundreds of Ukrainians crammed up against a closed passport office in Warsaw on Wednesday, furious over Kyiv’s suspension of consular services for fighting-aged men in a bid to force them to return home and bolster troop numbers.
Ukrainian authorities said Tuesday that they were “temporarily” blocking men aged 18 to 60 from accessing consular services, after Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said they were letting compatriots fight in their place on the front lines.
“Staying abroad does not relieve a citizen of his or her duties to the homeland,” Kuleba posted on social media.
The move is seen as part of Kyiv’s efforts to reinforce its army as soldiers struggle to hold positions against Russia.
But in Poland, which hosts hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians — both refugees from the conflict and those who were already living in the country when Russia invaded — there was anger among those who felt they were being unfairly targeted.
“This is a fight against people who are fleeing the army,” said Maksym, a 38-year-old truck driver, one of dozens of people who had come hoping to collect a new passport they had applied for — so far unsuccessfully.
“We are not asked on what grounds we went abroad... Why am I a draft dodger if I went abroad legally?” he told AFP.
Some said they had spent the whole night queueing up.
The agency issuing passports to Ukrainian residents in Warsaw blamed a “technical error” for the problems, not the new directive from Kyiv.
A heated argument broke out at the passport office when women accused a group of men of blocking the entrance and stopping other people who wanted to submit applications.
Pavlo Lyashenko, a 35-year-old entrepreneur standing nearby as the scene unfolded, told AFP that “The state has put me in a situation in which I have no way out.”
He said he had received a text message saying his passport was ready, but believed it was now being withheld from him.
“The doors are blocked. They are afraid that if I come inside, I will not leave until I receive my passport. I know it’s there,” Lyashenko said.
As the crowds swelled through the morning, the agency called in the Polish police as a precaution. Officers spoke with those queueing up, but did not otherwise intervene.
Diana Petrenko, deputy director of the Warsaw passport office, insisted that technical issues were to blame.
“Unfortunately, the documents are not issued due to technical reasons,” she told AFP, refusing to elaborate on the nature of the alleged glitch.
Ukraine’s foreign ministry said Tuesday that the suspension applied only to new applications and that any requests submitted before then would be honored.
Lyashenko, the entrepreneur, who said he had left Ukraine long before the start of the war, said he worried he could end up in a legal grey zone, abroad but without a valid passport.
“I think that our state is simply driving people to the point that we will all need to do this,” he said.
Although there are some exceptions, most Ukrainian men have been barred from leaving the country since Russia invaded in February 2022 — meaning that many who will now be unable to submit new passport applications had already been living away for years.
According to Ukrainian media, hundreds of thousands of working-age men have sought refuge in EU countries since the start of the war.
The consular service suspensions, which come as Kyiv scrambles to recruit troops, is widely seen as an attempt to force fighting-age men back to Ukraine.
President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government also recently passed a new mobilization law designed to help lift army numbers, and lowered the age limit for mobilization to 25 from 27.
The mobilization law, due to come into force mid-May, also toughens penalties against draft dodgers and forces men to keep their military registration up to date.
The foreign ministry said the suspension of consular services was a temporary measure needed to “resolve technical issues” linked with the implementation of the new law.
Bogdan, a Ukrainian truck driver who declined to give his full name, said he was stuck waiting for a second day straight at the Warsaw passport office.
“I drove 700 kilometers (435 miles) to get my passport because I received a text message that I could pick it up,” the 27-year-old said.
“No one gives the passport. What are our next steps?” he said. “What do we have to do to simply be given our documents that we paid for?“


A Russian deputy defense minister is ordered jailed pending trial on bribery charges

A Russian deputy defense minister is ordered jailed pending trial on bribery charges
Updated 24 April 2024
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A Russian deputy defense minister is ordered jailed pending trial on bribery charges

A Russian deputy defense minister is ordered jailed pending trial on bribery charges
  • Timur Ivanov, one of 12 deputy defense ministers, appeared in Moscow’s Basmany court Wednesday wearing his military uniform
  • The committee gave no further information, apart from saying Ivanov is suspected of taking an especially large bribe — an offense punishable by up to 15 years in prison

MOSCOW: A Russian deputy defense minister in charge of military construction projects and accused of living a lavish lifestyle was ordered jailed Wednesday pending an investigation and trial on charges of bribery, court officials said in a statement.
Timur Ivanov, one of 12 deputy defense ministers, appeared in Moscow’s Basmany court Wednesday wearing his military uniform. The ally of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was arrested Tuesday evening, Russia’s Investigative Committee said in a statement.
The committee gave no further information, apart from saying Ivanov is suspected of taking an especially large bribe — an offense punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
The Kremlin rejected some Russian media reports that Ivanov was suspected of treason.
Ivanov, 48, was sanctioned by both the United States and European Union in 2022 after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
According to a court statement, investigators told the judge that Ivanov had conspired with third parties to receive a bribe in the form of unspecified property services “during contracting and subcontracting work for the needs of the Ministry of Defense.”
An acquaintance of Ivanov’s, identified as Sergei Borodin, also was arrested and ordered jailed pending an investigation and trial on the same charges, court officials said. Both men are to remain in custody until at least June 23.
According to the Defense Ministry’s website, Ivanov was appointed in 2016 by a presidential decree. He oversaw property management, housing and medical support for the military, as well as construction projects.
Russia’s state news agency RIA Novosti quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying that Shoigu and President Vladimir Putin were informed of Ivanov’s arrest, which comes as Moscow’s war in Ukraine grinds through its third year.
Peskov dismissed Russian media reports that the corruption allegations against Ivanov were intended to obscure additional allegations of high treason.
Independent Russian news outlet reported that the bribery charges were intended to hide more serious charges of treason and avoid scandal, citing two unidentified sources close to the Federal Security Service, or FSB.
Peskov described the reports as speculation. “There are a lot of rumors. We need to rely on official information,” he told journalists.
Ivanov’s lawyer also denied any other charges, telling RIA Novosti that he faced only bribery allegations.
Before his arrest, Ivanov was seen attending a meeting with Shoigu and other military brass.
Russian media reported that he oversaw some of the construction in Mariupol — a Ukrainian port city that was devastated by bombardment and occupied by Russian forces early in the war.
Zvezda, the official TV channel of the Russian military, reported in summer 2022 that the ministry was building an entire residential block in Mariupol and showed Ivanov inspecting construction sites and newly erected residential buildings.
That same year, the team of the late Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner, alleged Ivanov and his family had been enjoying luxurious trips abroad, lavish parties and owning elite real estate. The activists also alleged that Ivanov’s wife, Svetlana, divorced him in 2022 to avoid sanctions and continued living a lavish lifestyle.
Commenting on Ivanov’s case, Navalny’s ally Maria Pevchikh said on social platform X: “It’s a good day today.”
The prosecution of high-level officials for corruption remains relatively rare in Russia.
The most recent arrest in April 2023 saw former Deputy Culture Minister Olga Yarilova charged with embezzling more than 200 million rubles ($2.2 million). Yarilova, who held her post between 2018 and 2022, is on trial and facing a seven-year jail term.
Former Economics Minister Alexei Ulyukayev received an eight-year prison sentence in 2017 for accepting a $2 million bribe from one of Putin’s top associates. The high-profile trial was widely seen as part of infighting between Kremlin clans. Ulyukayev, now 68, was granted early release from prison in May 2022.


Vaccines save at least 154 million lives in 50 years: WHO

Vaccines save at least 154 million lives in 50 years: WHO
Updated 24 April 2024
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Vaccines save at least 154 million lives in 50 years: WHO

Vaccines save at least 154 million lives in 50 years: WHO
  • That is the equivalent of six lives saved every minute of every year of the half century, the UN health agency said
  • “Vaccines are among the most powerful inventions in history, making once-feared diseases preventable,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said

GENEVA: Global immunization efforts have saved at least 154 million lives in the past 50 years, the World Health Organization said Wednesday, adding that most of those to benefit were infants.
That is the equivalent of six lives saved every minute of every year of the half century, the UN health agency said.
In a study published in the Lancet, WHO gave a comprehensive analysis of the impact of 14 vaccines used under the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI), which celebrates its 50th anniversary next month.
“Vaccines are among the most powerful inventions in history, making once-feared diseases preventable,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.
“Thanks to vaccines, smallpox has been eradicated, polio is on the brink, and with the more recent development of vaccines against diseases like malaria and cervical cancer, we are pushing back the frontiers of disease,” he said.
“With continued research, investment and collaboration, we can save millions more lives today and in the next 50 years.”
The study said infants accounted for 101 million of the lives saved through immunization over the five decades.
“Immunization was the single greatest contribution of any health intervention to ensuring babies not only see their first birthdays but continue leading healthy lives into adulthood,” WHO said.
Over 50 years, vaccines against 14 diseases — diphtheria, Haemophilus influenza type B, hepatitis B, Japanese encephalitis, measles, meningitis A, pertussis, invasive pneumococcal disease, polio, rotavirus, rubella, tetanus, tuberculosis, and yellow fever — had directly contributed to reducing infant deaths by 40 percent, the study found.
For Africa, the reduction was more than 50 percent, it said.
The vaccine against measles — a highly contagious disease by a virus that attacks mainly children — had the most significant impact.
That jab accounted for 60 percent of the lives saved due to immunization, according to the study.
The polio vaccine means that more than 20 million people are able to walk today who would otherwise have been paralyzed.
The study also showed that when a vaccine saves a child’s life, that person goes on to live an average of 66 years of full health on average — with a total of 10.2 billion full health years gained over the five decades.
“These gains in childhood survival highlight the importance of protecting immunization progress,” WHO said, pointing to accelerating efforts to reach 67 million children who missed at least one vaccination during the Covid pandemic.


Sunak, Scholz vow support for Ukraine for ‘as long as it takes’

Sunak, Scholz vow support for Ukraine for ‘as long as it takes’
Updated 24 April 2024
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Sunak, Scholz vow support for Ukraine for ‘as long as it takes’

Sunak, Scholz vow support for Ukraine for ‘as long as it takes’
  • “We’re defending the values that are incredibly important to us,” the UK leader added
  • Sunak embarked on a two-day trip to Europe designed to get the spotlight back on Ukraine after months of world attention on Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza

BERLIN: The leaders of Britain and Germany pledged Wednesday to back Ukraine in its war with Russia for “as long as it takes,” but the German chancellor doubled down on his refusal to deliver long-range Taurus missiles to Kyiv.
UK Premier Rishi Sunak was on his first trip to the German capital since becoming prime minister 18 months ago, after visiting Poland on Tuesday where he pledged additional money for Kyiv and announced plans to boost UK defense spending.
“We’re united on wanting to support Ukraine for as long as it takes,” Sunak told reporters, adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression must “end in failure.”
“We’re defending the values that are incredibly important to us,” the UK leader added, standing alongside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz during a press conference at Germany’s chancellery.
Sunak embarked on a two-day trip to Europe designed to get the spotlight back on Ukraine after months of world attention on Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza.
In Poland, he pledged an additional £500 million ($617 million) for Ukraine, taking the amount of money the UK has contributed to Ukraine’s war effort to £12 billion.
Kyiv has been pleading with allies to ramp up supplies of ammunition and air defenses desperately needed to repel relentless Russian attacks.
US lawmakers eased the pressure last weekend by unblocking a $61-billion military aid package for Kyiv following six months of political wrangling.
But EU defense and foreign ministers insist that Europe must still speed up its deliveries of arms to Ukraine.
Germany has answered Kyiv’s call in recent days by saying it would send an extra Patriot air defense system to Ukraine.
But Scholz again resisted calls to send long-range Taurus missiles, which Ukraine desperately wants but which Germany fears would escalate the conflict.
“My decision is very clear” on not sending the Taurus, said Scholz.
“But my decision is also very clear that we will continue to be the biggest supporter of Ukraine in Europe,” he added.
Sunak hailed “a new chapter” in relations between Britain and Germany as they announced plans for a joint endeavour to develop remote-controlled Howitzer artillery systems that will be fitted to Boxer armored vehicles.
“At this dangerous moment for the world, the UK and Germany are standing side by side to preserve security and prosperity at home and across our continent,” Sunak said before landing in Berlin.
In Warsaw, the UK PM pledged to gradually increase UK defense spending to 2.5 percent of GDP by 2030 as NATO countries face pressure to raise defense expenditure in the face of these global threats.
Sunak said that the West was facing its most dangerous period since the end of the Cold War, with Russia’s assault on Ukraine in its third year, but also the threat of escalation in the Middle East.
More of NATO’s European members — including heavyweights France and Germany — have increased their defense spending recently to meet the alliance’s two percent of GDP target.
Sunak refused to say that NATO should increase its target to 2.5 percent but added: “We recognize we need to do more,” adding: “I do believe we are in a world where defense spending is rising.”
EU chief Ursula von der Leyen recently warned that European countries need to boost defense budgets and Brussels is set to come up with further proposals by a summit of EU leaders in June.
It has put forward a 1.5-billion-euro ($1.6-billion) strategy to step up defense production, but officials say this is nowhere near sufficient.
The UK, which quit the European Union in early 2020, is among some 20 countries to have signed up to Germany’s air defense project called the European Sky Shield Initiative.
The project would involve joint procurement for short-, medium- and long-range systems, including the German-made Iris-T, the American Patriot system and the US-Israeli Arrow 3.
France has so far declined to sign up to the pact, with officials there arguing instead for an air defense system using European equipment.