Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he was planning to meet his Chinese counterpart after Beijing called for urgent peace talks to end the war in Ukraine.

"I am planning to meet President Xi Jinping," he told reporters on Friday as Ukraine marked the first anniversary of Russia's invasion.

"This will be important for world security," he said.

Mr Zelenskyy did not say when or where he was planning to meet Mr Xi but expressed hope that China would support a "just peace" and Ukraine.

China on Friday called for urgent peace talks as it released a 12-point plan to end the war in Ukraine.

 

"It's an important signal that they are preparing to take part in this theme," Mr Zelenskyy said, suggesting that Beijing did not offer a concrete plan but some "thoughts".

"So far, I see this as a signal — I don't know what will happen later."

He also called on Beijing not to provide Moscow with arms, something China has already said it has no plans to do.

"I very much want to believe that China will not deliver weapons to Russia, and for me this is very important," Mr Zelenskyy said.

"This is point number one."

 

The Ukrainian leader also said that any plan that did not include a full Russian troop withdrawal would be unacceptable to Kyiv.

China has sought to position itself as a neutral party in the conflict, while maintaining close ties with strategic ally Russia.

Russia said it appreciated Beijing's efforts to settle the conflict but insisted that any solution should recognise Kremlin control over four Ukrainian regions.

China's proposal was met by scepticism from Ukraine's allies.

Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg said Beijing "doesn't have much credibility because they have not been able to condemn the illegal invasion of Ukraine".

 

"[Russian President Vladimir] Putin is applauding it, so how could it be any good?" US President Joe Biden told ABC in an interview.

And German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that while "every constructive suggestion that brings us closer on the path to a just peace is highly welcome... whether global power China wants to play such a constructive role is still doubtful".

China announced on Saturday that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko would begin a four-day state visit on Tuesday.

Mr Lukashenko is a staunch ally of Mr Putin and has backed Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

Mr Xi and Mr Lukashenko announced an "all-weather" strategic partnership, when they met in the Uzbek city of Samarkand in September.

 

Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron said he would visit China in early April, in part to seek Chinese help with ending the war in Ukraine.

"The fact that China engages in peace efforts is a good thing," Mr Macron told reporters at an agricultural fair in Paris on Saturday.

"China must help us put pressure on Russia so that it never uses chemical or nuclear weapons, [an effort] which China has already made, and that it stops its aggression as a precondition for talks," he said.

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A jet flies by the balloon. Reuters

A jet flies by the balloon. Reuters

Three unidentified flying “objects” that the Pentagon shot down over North America did not have any propulsion systems, were not being manoeuvred and were not alien in origin, the White House said on Monday.

The most recent downing happened on Sunday when an object flying at about 6,000 metres was shot down over Lake Huron, one of North America's five Great Lakes. Two other objects had been shot down over the preceding two days, one over Alaska and one in Canada.

“These objects were not being manoeuvred. They did not appear to have any self-propulsion,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

“So the likely hypothesis is that they were being moved by the prevailing winds.”

 

President Joe Biden ordered the vessels to be shot down after authorities determined they posed a risk to civilian air traffic. Searches for the wreckage, which landed across remote and frozen areas, are under way.

 

Until more is known about the craft, they all could be described as unidentified flying objects — UFOs — though officials moved to tamp down speculation about any otherworldly origins.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre drew laughter from reporters when she said: “There is no indication of aliens or extraterrestrial activity with these recent takedowns”.

But only a day earlier, a top general declined to rule out any extraterrestrial explanations.

Air Force Gen Glen VanHerck, head of North American Aerospace Defence Command (Norad) and Northern Command, said he would “let the intel community and the counter-intelligence community figure that out”.

“I haven't ruled out anything at this point,” he told reporters on Sunday.

Mr Kirby seemed to dismiss any notion that the as-yet-unidentified flying objects, which the US military has described as “octagonal” or “cylindrical”, are anything but terrestrial in nature.

“I don’t think the American people need to worry about aliens with respect to these craft. Period,” Mr Kirby said.

Unidentified aerial phenomena are a matter of serious Pentagon study and Mr Biden started receiving intelligence briefings on the issue in June 2021, Mr Kirby said.

Additionally, the president on Monday directed an interagency team to study the "broader policy implications" for the detection, analysis and disposition of "unidentified aerial objects" that pose either safety or security risks, Mr Kirby said.

Chinese 'spy balloon'

The shoot-downs came less than a week after a Chinese balloon was destroyed over the coast of South Carolina after drifting across the US for several days. The US calls it a “spy balloon” that was being used to surveil sensitive military sites, but Beijing has claimed it was a weather-monitoring station.

 

Washington issued a sharp denial on Monday after Beijing accused it of sending several American high-altitude balloons over China.

The US rebuttal comes as tension flares between the two superpowers over the downed balloon.

“It's not uncommon as well for the United States to illegally enter the airspace of other countries,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said.

“Since last year, the US's high-altitude balloons have undergone more than 10 illegal flights into Chinese airspace without the approval of the relevant Chinese departments.”

The White House said that any claim the US government operates surveillance balloons over China is false.

“It is China that has a high-altitude surveillance balloon programme for intelligence collection that it has used to violate the sovereignty of the US and over 40 countries across five continents,” National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said.

“This is the latest example of China scrambling to do damage control,” she added, noting that China, which claims the balloon that was shot down was a weather-monitoring platform, has failed to offer any “credible explanations” for intruding into other countries' airspace.

As the Chinese balloon drifted across the US for several days, it caused a political furore in the country, with Republicans accusing Mr Biden of being too slow to shoot it down. But the Pentagon said analysts were able to capture significant intelligence about the balloon as it traversed America.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken cancelled a planned trip to Beijing for what was supposed to have been a willingness to signal a rapprochement between the world's two largest economies.

Mr Biden acted much more quickly to order the shoot downs of three other objects that were subsequently spotted in US and Canadian airspace.

 

The Chinese “spy balloon” was shot down on February 4 by a US F-22 fighter. US Navy and Coastguard teams have recovered much of the wreckage of the vessel, which landed in waters about 14 metres deep off the eastern state of South Carolina.

Mr Kirby said the balloon was carrying a payload as long as three buses. Some of that has now been recovered from the Atlantic, though rough seas are hampering efforts.

At the weekend, Chinese state-affiliated media reported that an unidentified flying object had been spotted off the country's east coast and that the military was preparing to shoot it down.

Beijing on Monday declined to comment on that report, AFP reported.

US Navy recovers Chinese balloon — in pictures

US sailors recover a Chinese surveillance balloon that was shot down at the weekend off the coast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. US Navy / Reuters

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Dr Sultan Al Jaber and IFC managing director Makhtar Diop witness the signing of the agreement by Masdar chief executive Mohamed Al Ramahi and IFC vice president Mohamed Gouled. Photo: Abu Dhabi Media Office

Dr Sultan Al Jaber and IFC managing director Makhtar Diop witness the signing of the agreement by Masdar chief executive Mohamed Al Ramahi and IFC vice president Mohamed Gouled. Photo: Abu Dhabi Media Office

 

Abu Dhabi’s clean energy company Masdar is teaming up with the International Finance Corporation to explore areas of collaboration to support climate action in emerging markets amid green transition efforts.

As part of the agreement, signed on the sidelines of the World Government Summit 2023, the two entities will explore the establishment of a green hydrogen platform and potential collaboration on bankability and structuring issues for African renewable energy projects.

The framework also covers the exploration of mechanisms to hasten the adoption of distributed photovoltaic systems, and the development of innovative new technology and business models in emerging markets in response to the climate crisis, the Abu Dhabi Media Office said on Tuesday.

“As the UAE prepares to host Cop28, we have placed a special emphasis on ensuring better, more efficient and more equitable access to climate finance,” said Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology, Cop28 President-designate and chairman of Masdar.

He is also UAE's special envoy on climate change.

 

“The UAE is a trusted partner of many nations and actively supports the development of emerging nations,” he said.

“The International Finance Corporation has been a key partner for Masdar in a number of emerging markets, and this agreement carries forward the UAE’s commitment to equitable climate finance and inclusive sustainable development.”

Established by Mubadala in 2006, Masdar has taken a leadership role in the global clean energy sector and has also helped to drive the nation’s economic diversification and climate action agenda.

Masdar is active in more than 40 countries and has invested or committed to invest in projects worth more than $30 billion.

The company aims to grow its capacity to at least 100 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2030.

 

“Masdar has a long history with the IFC, where we have worked together to fund clean energy projects from Jordan to Uzbekistan and other countries,” said Mohamed Al Ramahi, chief executive of Masdar.

“We are confident this agreement will serve as the foundation for further impactful collaborations that advance sustainable development in the countries and communities that need it most.”

 

Masdar has already completed a number of projects in African countries, including Egypt, Mauritania, the Seychelles and Morocco.

At the last month's Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week 2023, Masdar signed deals for projects with a combined generation capacity of 5 gigawatts across Angola, Uganda and Zambia, as part of Etihad 7, a UAE-led initiative that aims to raise public and private sector funds to invest in the development of Africa’s renewable energy sector.

Masdar is also developing new renewable energy projects in central Asia, as well as in Indonesia, and recently opened an office in Azerbaijan's capital Baku to strengthen the country’s renewable energy programme.

 

The IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, financed and mobilised $7.7 billion in capital for climate-related initiatives in the first six months of 2022 to help public and private sector projects gain access to funding despite rising interest rates and amid a weakening economic outlook.

The multilateral lender invested $4.4 billion into development programmes and financing deals from its own account and mobilised $3.3 billion from the private sector in the previous financial year that ended on June 30, the IFC’s global head and director of climate business, Vivek Pathak, told The National last year.

Separately, the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development signed a preliminary agreement with the IFC on Tuesday to support investments in emerging markets, including those related to the clean energy transition, climate mitigation and adaptation, the adoption of clean technology and food security.

Under the partnership, the two entities aim to co-invest up to Dh5.5 billion ($1.5 billion) in private sector-led projects, the ADFD said.

 

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Mina Aldroubi reports:

Rescue teams working in Syria to find survivors of last week's earthquake are facing difficulties with communication, safety and access to fuel and electricity, an official of the International Rescue Committee told The National on Tuesday.

The 7.8-magnitude quake struck the country and neighbouring Turkey last Monday, killing more than 37,000 people, at least 3,600 of them in Syria, according to government officials and emergency services in rebel areas.

Rescue operations are continuing, despite dwindling hopes of finding survivors. But Syria's long conflict and its effect on infrastructure are hampering efforts.

“When operating inside Syria, we are facing issues with line and mobile outages, undermining communication with staff,” Elias Abu Ata, spokesman for the International Rescue Committee, told The National.

“Some of our staff [are] losing their homes and working in temporary sites, including their cars,” Mr Abu Ata said.

One of the main challenges is access to fuel on the ground and many emergency team members are using their car engines to generate electricity to charge devices.

Some didn't make it. The IRC lost two of its workers in north-west Syria. Mohamed Shaabouk and Rowaida Glelate died tragically last week in their respective homes.

“They were committed and passionate individuals and were continuously focused on improving the lives of vulnerable people caught up in the Syrian crisis,” the IRC said in a statement.

Mr Abu Ata said at least one IRC field offices in northern Syria had been affected and "staff had been advised not to go back to buildings due to fear of aftershocks and the potential damage it may cause to some structures".

The IRC is also calling for wider access into Syria to provide relief for survivors.

 

Aid has been slow to reach Syria, where nearly 12 years of conflict have ravaged the healthcare system and parts of the country remain under the control of rebels battling against President Bashar Al Assad's government.

It was announced early on Tuesday that Mr Al Assad had agreed to allow UN aid deliveries to the opposition-held north-west, through two border crossings from Turkey, for three months.

“We use the same crossings [Bab Al Hawa] as the UN but we also transfer our assistance through commercial routes, which is why we need as much access as possible,” Mr Abu Ata said.

 

The first UN convoy going through Bab Al Hawa was last Thursday, comprising six lorries.

“We understand there are more convoys scheduled over the next few days,” Mr Abu Ata said. "We need those levels of aid coming in to scale up at pace."

 

Following the rescue operations, thousands of internally displaced people have moved across north-west Syria, with the majority of them making their way to neighbouring areas and staying in makeshift shelters vulnerable to aftershocks.

Many in areas of devastation are still without shelter, with more than 100,000 displaced families — and the numbers are increasing, Mr Abu Ata said.

“Displaced people are living in makeshift shelters or open air in sub-zero temperatures,” he said.

Clean drinking water, shelter, blankets and warm clothes are urgently needed, he added.

 

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Rising toll makes quake deadliest in Turkey’s modern history

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Tuesday that more than 35,000 people have died in Turkey as a result of last week’s earthquake, making it the deadliest such disaster since the country’s founding 100 years ago.

While the death toll is almost certain to rise even further, many of the tens of thousands of survivors left homeless are still struggling to meet basic needs, like finding shelter from the bitter cold.

Confirmed deaths in Turkey passed those recorded from the massive Erzincan earthquake in 1939 that killed around 33,000 people.

Emergency personnel carry body of Mujde Cavlak, 45, at the site of collapsed buildings after a powerful earthquake, in Hatay. EPA

Erdogan said 105,505 were injured as a result of the February 6 quake centred around Kahramanmaras and its aftershocks. Almost 3,700 deaths have been confirmed in neighbouring Syria, taking the combined toll in both countries to over 39,000.

The Turkish President, who has referred to the quake as “the disaster of the century", said more than 13,000 people were still being treated in hospital.

Speaking in Ankara following a five-hour Cabinet meeting held at the headquarters of disaster agency AFAD, Mr Erdogan said 47,000 buildings, which contained 211,000 residences, had been destroyed or were so badly damaged as to require demolition.

“We will continue our work until we get our last citizen out of the destroyed buildings,” he said of ongoing rescue efforts.

 

 

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