Rebel-held Syria shifts power — toward solar

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Solar panels are seen on the rooftops of buildings in the town of Dana, Idlib province, Syria, on June 10, 2021. (AFP / Aaref Watad)
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A man and his son stand near a solar panel installed on the rooftop of their house in the village of Killi, in Syria's northwestern Idlib province. (AFP / Aaref Watad)
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Solar panels are seen on the rooftops of buildings in the town of Dana, Idlib province, Syria, on June 10, 2021. (AFP / Aaref Watad)
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Workers store solar panels to be sold in a shop in the town of Dana, Idlib province, Syria, on June 10, 2021. (AFP / Aaref Watad)w
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Solar panels are installed in agricultural fields in the village of Killi, Idlib province, Syria. (AFP / Aaref Watad)
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Updated 04 July 2021

Rebel-held Syria shifts power — toward solar

  • UNDP says at least 90 percent lack a stable power supply across Syria
  • In rebel areas, there is little hope of state-provided electricity

KILLI, Syria: Huge solar panels poke out of pumpkin and tomato fields in Syria’s rebel-held northwest, where after infrastructure was destroyed during a decade of war, many have switched to renewable energy.
“We used to rely on diesel-powered generators, but it was a struggle with fuel shortages and price hikes,” said Khaled Mustafa, one of dozens of farmers who set up panels in the Idlib region.
“So we opted for solar power instead,” he said.
More than three million people live in the Idlib region in Syria’s northwest, much of which is controlled by jihadist forces and other rebels.
Across Syria, at least 90 percent lack a stable power supply, according to the United Nations’ Development Programme (UNDP).
In rebel areas, there is little hope of state-provided electricity.
Instead, the dark blue silicon panels have become common — installed on roofs, in hospitals or between tents in massive displacement camps.
Once small and smoky diesel generators used to power many homes.
But with regular fuel shortages sending prices soaring, solar panels are now viewed as a cheaper, more efficient and reliable alternative.
In Mustafa’s plot, solar panels hooked to rotating metal plates turn to follow the movement of the sun. 




Solar panels are installed in agricultural fields in the village of Killi, Idlib province, Syria. (AFP / Aaref Watad)


They are among 200 solar panels purchased two years ago by an agricultural cooperative of nearly 20 farmers, costing some $4,000.
The panels power water pumps from a well, irrigating three hectares (seven acres) of cooperative farmland, as well as neighboring fields.
“Even if (state) electricity is restored, solar energy will remain cheaper,” said Mustafa.

Renewable energy sources
Syria’s electricity production was slashed by at least half during the conflict, but as fighting has calmed, renewable energy sources have increased, the UN says.
“Since armed clashes have decreased, and most of the country is in a more stable situation, solar energy production has spiked as a valid alternative,” UNDP said.
In regime-controlled areas, solar panels provide power for both homes and public institutions like universities.
As for those under rebel control, one survey found eight percent used solar as the main source of power in their homes, according to a report in the Education and Conflict Review, published by Britain’s University College London.
It also found a tenth of people used solar for heating water, and a third of people used solar as a secondary source of power, for lighting and charging batteries.




Workers store solar panels to be sold in a shop in the town of Dana, Idlib province, Syria, on June 10, 2021.  (AFP / Aaref Watad)

In the rebel-held town of Dana, shimmering solar power installations cover rooftops.
“Sales increased by 300 percent between 2018 and 2021,” said solar panel salesman Abdulhakim Abdul Rahman. Farmers account for most of his clients.
A single agricultural project can require “100 panels, sometimes even 500,” the trader said.
Abdul Rahman said the panels he imports — mostly from Turkey, but also from Germany and China — can last up to 20 years.

Vital for hospitals
In his small apartment, Zakariya Sinno turns on a ceiling fan and blasts Syrian revolutionary anthems from a loudspeaker to show off the power of his solar set-up.
Like many of his neighbors, he has installed three panels on his roof.
“It’s enough to power the fridge, the washing machine, and lighting,” said Sinno.
Hospitals have also installed solar panels.
In 2017, the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations (UOSSM) launched its “Syria Solar” initiative to introduce renewable power for Idlib’s hospitals.
It has since installed 480 panels in one general hospital, and 300 others in a separate orthopaedic facility.
It has also helped more than 40 other clinics in Idlib and northern Aleppo with technical assistance, so they can install solar systems.
Even if fuel shortages mean generators grind to a halt, solar power keeps “sensitive hospital departments, namely intensive care units, operating rooms and emergency departments” functional, said Talal Kanaan, a founder of the Syria Solar initiative.
“With solar energy, you can cover between 30 to 40 percent of the hospital’s energy consumption,” he said.
 


Algeria to re-open land border with Tunisia: president

Updated 05 July 2022

Algeria to re-open land border with Tunisia: president

  • "We have taken the joint decision to reopen the land border from July 15," said President Abdelmadjid Tebboune
  • He was speaking at Algiers airport alongside his Tunisian counterpart President Kais Saied

ALGIERS: Algeria said Tuesday it would reopen its land border with Tunisia later this month, more than two years after it was shut at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have taken the joint decision to reopen the land border from July 15,” said President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.
He was speaking at Algiers airport alongside his Tunisian counterpart President Kais Saied, who was leaving the country after attending a huge parade marking 60 years since Algeria’s independence from France.
Passengers had been blocked from crossing the border since March 2020 to stop the Covid-19 illness spreading, although cargo traffic had continued.
Being cut off from a neighbor of some 44 million people has dealt a serious blow to Tunisia’s tourism industry.
More than three million Algerians usually visit the country every year, according to local media.
Air and sea links between the two countries were restored in June 2021.


Egypt FM attending freedom of religion conference in London

Updated 05 July 2022

Egypt FM attending freedom of religion conference in London

  • Societies that allow their people to choose what they believe are better, stronger and ultimately more successful

CAIRO: Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry is attending the International Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief in London.

The event, which is being held on July 5-6, is hosting 500 religious, government and civil society leaders from 60 countries to call for more action to protect freedom of religion or belief around the world.

In the opening speech of the conference, the UK’s Prince Charles said in a recorded message: “Freedom of conscience, of thought and of belief is central to any truly flourishing society. It allows people to contribute to their communities without fear of exclusion, to exchange ideas without fear of prejudice, and to build relationships without fear of rejection. A society where difference is respected, where it is accepted that all need not think alike, will benefit from the talents of all of its members.”

Speaking at the conference at the Queen Elizabeth II Center in London, UK Foreign Minister Liz Truss said: “The freedom to believe, to pray and commit acts of worship, or indeed not to believe is a fundamental human freedom and has been one since the dawn of time. Societies that allow their people to choose what they believe are better, stronger and ultimately more successful. This fundamental right is covered in the very first clause of Magna Carta and Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is one of the Four Freedoms Franklin D. Roosevelt said were ‘essential everywhere in the world.’”

Yesterday, the Egyptian minister, at the start of his London visit, met UK Minister of State for North Africa, South and Central Asia, the Commonwealth and the UN Lord Tariq Ahmed. The two discussed the conference, Egypt’s preparations for hosting and chairing COP27 in November, and the importance of continuing coordination between Egypt and the UK.


Iran adds demands in nuclear talks, enrichment levels ‘alarming’: US envoy

Updated 05 July 2022

Iran adds demands in nuclear talks, enrichment levels ‘alarming’: US envoy

  • Indirect talks between Tehran and Washington aimed at breaking an impasse over how to salvage Iran’s 2015 nuclear pact ended in Doha, Qatar, last week

JEDDAH: Iran has made alarming progress on enriching uranium and is hampering talks on a revived nuclear deal by making a series of unrelated demands, US special envoy Robert Malley said on Tuesday.

Negotiations in Vienna aimed at salvaging the collapsed 2015 agreement have been stalled since March, and talks in Qatar last week to break the impasse ended in failure.

Tehran had “added demands that I think anyone looking at this would view as having nothing to do with the nuclear deal, things that they’ve wanted in the past,” Malley said.

BACKGROUND

French President Emmanuel Macron said he would make every effort to make Tehran return to the negotiating table.

“The discussion that really needs to take place right now is not so much between us and Iran, although we’re prepared to have that. It’s between Iran and itself. They need to come to a conclusion about whether they are now prepared to come back into compliance with the deal.”

Iran ramped up enrichment of uranium after the US pulled out of the deal in 2018, and Malley said it was now much closer to having enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb.

“We are of course alarmed, as are our partners, about the progress they’ve made in the enrichment field,” he said.

Opinion

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The window to revive the deal was closing, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned on Tuesday. “If we want to conclude an agreement, decisions are needed now. This is still possible, but the political space … may narrow soon,” he said.

On a visit to Paris, new Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said Iran was “violating the agreement and continues to develop its nuclear program.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said he would make every effort to make Tehran see reason and return to the negotiating table.


Greek PM criticizes ‘constant aggressive behavior’ of Turkey

Updated 05 July 2022

Greek PM criticizes ‘constant aggressive behavior’ of Turkey

  • Greece has voiced strong support for Ukraine in its war against the Russian invasion
  • Mitsotakis noted he was referring to “the constant aggressive behavior of Turkey,” with which relations have shown increasing strain over the past two years

ATHENS: Greece’s prime minister said Tuesday that Russia’s war in Ukraine is a “turning point” in the course of Europe, stressing that any type of outcome that could embolden aggression by other nations on the continent must be avoided.
Greece, which has long-standing disputes with far larger neighbor Turkey that brought them to the brink of war three times in the last half-century, has voiced strong support for Ukraine in its war against the Russian invasion.
“The battle of Ukraine is not just another event on the international scene. It is a turning point in the course of Europe,” Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in a speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.
“We owe it today to Ukraine to avert any type of fait accompli which could be imitated tomorrow by new potential trouble-makers,” he said.
Mitsotakis noted he was referring to “the constant aggressive behavior of Turkey,” with which relations have shown increasing strain over the past two years. Although both NATO members, the two countries have decades-old disputes over a series of issues, including territorial claims in the Aegean Sea and energy exploration rights in the eastern Mediterranean.
Recent quarrels have focused on Greek islands off Turkey’s coast, with Ankara accusing Athens of maintaining a military presence there in violation of treaties. Greece counters it is acting according to international law and is defending its islands in the face of Turkish hostility.
“One thing is certain, we do not need new revisionism and the revival of imperial fantasies,” Mitsotakis said. “And another thing is also certain, Greece will not tolerate any questioning of its national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
The Greek prime minister said his country was “keeping our doors shut to threats, keeping our windows open to peaceful contacts. Disputes between nations are resolved based on international law, not through bullying.”
Last Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Greece of violating its airspace — something which Greece frequently accuses Turkey of doing to its own airspace, and denies violating Turkey’s.
“We don’t have an issue like ‘let’s go to war with Greece, let’s make war.’ But Greece is not standing by their promises,” Erdogan said after Friday prayers, accusing Greece of having violated Turkish airspace 147 times.
“Of course, if you’re going to violate our airspace like this, then what falls on us? My air force will give you the necessary visuals. That’s what our air force is doing,” Erdogan said, adding that “our armed forces are doing their duty and if these airspace violations continue after this, we will continue to do our duty in the same way.”
The Turkish president said the leaders of many NATO countries had tried to reconcile him and Mitsotakis. Erdogan said that “we are not thinking that right now,” but would see what happens in the future and evaluate it then.


Belgian held in Iran for ‘espionage’

Updated 05 July 2022

Belgian held in Iran for ‘espionage’

  • Man was seized in Iran on February 24 and has been in ‘illegal’ detention since

BRUSSELS: Iran has been holding a Belgian man for the past four months under “espionage” charges, Belgium’s justice minister said Tuesday, as his country weighed a controversial prisoner swap treaty with Tehran.
The man was seized in Iran on February 24 and has been in “illegal” detention since, the minister, Vincent Van Quickenborne, told Belgian MPs without identifying him.
Belgium last year imprisoned an Iranian diplomat for 20 years after his conviction under “terrorist” charges for plotting a bomb attack outside Paris in 2018.
While Quickenborne did not give the detained Belgian’s identity, Iran International, a Saudi-financed media outlet based in London, reported that a 41-year-old Belgian former aid worker is detained in Iran.
The outlet said the Belgian’s arrest appeared to be another instance of Iran “imprisoning foreigners as hostages to exchange them with certain Iranians jailed in Western countries.”
Among those Iran is holding is a Swedish academic who also holds Iranian citizenship, Ahmadreza Djalali, who taught at a Brussels university. Iran also applied “espionage” charges to Djalali and has sentenced him to death.
Quickenborne said officials from Belgium’s embassy in Tehran had twice visited the jailed Belgian to give all possible assistance, and that his family had earlier Tuesday made public his detention.
“I cannot say more, at the express request of the family,” the minister said.
Belgium’s parliament on Thursday is to vote on whether to ratify a bilateral treaty with Iran that would open the way for prisoners in each country to be repatriated.
Quickenborne on Tuesday said as he presented the proposed treaty to MPs for debate that “if the bill is not fully approved, the threat to our Belgian interests and certain Belgian citizens will increase.”
Some US lawmakers, however, are pressing Belgium to ditch the proposed treaty, which was signed in March.
One, Randy Weber, a Republican representative in Texas, tweeted he was “shocked to find out that the Belgian gov has cut a deal with the world’s leading state-sponsor of terrorism and plans to send Iranian terrorists back to Iran to plot more terroristic acts.”
The imprisoned Iranian diplomat, Assadollah Assadi, was convicted by a Belgian court in February 2021 of attempted “terrorist” murder and “participating in the activities of a terrorist group.”
He was found guilty of supplying explosives for a bomb attack on June 30, 2018 event outside Paris held by the dissident National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI) group.
Information supplied by several European intelligence services allowed Belgium to thwart the attack by intercepting the car carrying the bomb.
A two-year investigation into the plot determined that Assadi was an Iranian agent operating under diplomatic cover.
Assadi was arrested in Germany, where his claim to diplomatic immunity was denied because he was attached to Iran’s embassy in Austria, and extradited to Belgium for trial.
He opted not to appeal against his sentence. Tehran has protested his conviction.
Lawyers for the NCRI, whose core is made up of a militant organization known as the MEK, said the proposed Belgium-Iran treaty was designed to allow Assadi to go back to Iran.
The controversy in Belgium over the treaty comes as European powers are trying to bring Iran and the United States back into compliance with a 2015 nuclear deal.
That pact was badly weakened when former president Donald Trump pulled America out in 2018.
Iran has since leapt ahead with its uranium enrichment to a level putting it close to the point where it could produce nuclear weapons.

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