Iran deploys Revolutionary Guards to quell “sedition” in protest hotbeds

Demonstrators attend a pro-government rally in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, Iran. Tens of thousands of Iranians took part in pro-government demonstrations in several cities across the country (AP)
Updated 03 January 2018
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Iran deploys Revolutionary Guards to quell “sedition” in protest hotbeds

LONDON: Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have deployed forces to three provinces to put down an eruption of anti-government unrest after six days of protests that have rattled the clerical leadership and left 21 people dead.
The protests, which began last week out of frustration over economic hardships suffered by the youth and working class, have evolved into a rising against the powers and privileges of a remote elite especially Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Defying threats from the judiciary of execution if convicted of rioting, protests resumed after nightfall with hundreds hitting the streets of Malayer in Hamadan province chanting: “People are begging, the supreme leader is acting like God!“
Videos carried by social media showed protesters in the northern town of Nowshahr shouted “death to the dictator” — an apparent reference to Khamenei.
In a sign of official concern about the resilience of the protests, the Revolutionary Guards commander, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, said he had dispatched forces to Hamadan, Isfahan and Lorestan provinces to tackle “the new sedition.”
Most of the casualties among protesters have occurred in those regions of the sprawling Islamic Republic.
The Revolutionary Guards, the sword and shield of Iran’s Shiite theocracy, were instrumental in suppressing an uprising over alleged election fraud in 2009 in which dozens of mainly middle-class protesters were killed. Khamenei condemned that unrest as “sedition.”
Anti-government rallies, held in defiance of the pervasive security services, have called for the downfall of the Islamic Republic, posing one of the most sustained challenges to the established order of the major oil-exporting state since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that overthrew the US-backed Shah.
In a state-sponsored show of force aimed at countering the outpouring of dissent, thousands of Iranians also took part in pro-government rallies in several cities on Wednesday morning.
State television broadcast live footage of rallies in cities across the country, where marchers waved Iranian flags and portraits of Khamenei, Iran’s paramount leader since 1989.
Pro-government marchers chanted, “The blood in our veins is a gift to our leader (Khamenei),” and, “We will not leave our leader alone.” They accused the United States, Israel and Britain of inciting protests, shouting, “The seditionist rioters should be executed!“
In the Shiite holy city of Qom, pro-government demonstrators chanted “death to American mercenaries.”
On Tuesday, the 78-year-old Khamenei had accused Iran’s adversaries of fomenting the protests.
RARE ANTI-GOVERNMENT OUTPOURING
US President Donald Trump, who has sought to isolate the Tehran leadership, reversing the conciliatory approach of predecessor Barack Obama, said Washington would throw its support behind the protesters at a suitable time.
“Such respect for the people of Iran as they try to take back their corrupt government. You will see great support from the United States at the appropriate time!” Trump wrote in the latest of a series of tweets on Iran’s turmoil.
The protests seem to be spontaneous, without a clear leader, cropping up in working-class neighborhoods and smaller cities, but the movement seems to be gaining traction among the educated middle class and activists who spearheaded the 2009 revolt.
More than 100 Iranian woman activists voiced support for a new uprising in a statement on Wednesday. Several prominent Iranian lawyers, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, urged Tehran to respect people’s right to freedom of assembly and expression, guaranteed under the constitution.
Some labor unions as well as minority Kurdish opposition groups have also thrown their weight behind the protests.
In Geneva, the UN human rights chief urged Iran to rein in security forces to avoid further violence and respect the right of protesters to freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly.
Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said hundreds of Iranians had been arrested in the past week, and called for “thorough, independent and impartial investigations of all acts of violence.”
Hamidreza Abolhassani, a regional judicial official, said a European citizen had been arrested for leading rioters in the Borujerd area of western Iran and was suspected of having been “trained by European intelligence services.” The detainee’s nationality was not given.
The outburst of dissent is the most serious since Iranians took to the streets in 2009 over accusations of vote-rigging in the re-election of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a conservative hard-liner, over two reformist challengers.
ROUHANI UNDER PRESSURE
The protests have heaped pressure on President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who championed a deal struck with world powers in 2015 to curb Iran’s disputed nuclear program in return for the lifting of most international sanctions.
Many of the protesters are fuming over what they see as the failure so far of Rouhani’s government to deliver on promises of more jobs and investment as a dividend of the nuclear accord.
Anger over economic stagnation and reputed graft within the clerical and security hierarchies has been building since last month. Thousands joined a hashtag campaign on Twitter and other sites to vent frustration over the dragging pace of reforms to tackle high unemployment and grant more social freedoms.
Khamenei and Rouhani have vowed to crack down on high-level corruption and create economic prosperity for all Iranians.
But there have been few changes. The Revolutionary Guards, for example, still control a vast, lucrative economic empire.
While more than 20 million out of 80 million Iranians live below the poverty line, the wealthy, including relatives of government officials, import tens of thousands of luxury cars every year, causing widespread resentment.
Trump has said in tweets that Iranians have lost patience with alleged graft and what he called a terrorist regime.
Trump must decide by mid-January whether to continue waiving US sanctions on Iran’s oil exports under terms of the nuclear deal he opposed. But if reimposes sanctions, he risks worsening the economic pain of Iranians he has vowed to help.
“If the Americans’ sympathy with Iranians were real, they would have not imposed cruel sanctions on the our nation,” Jafari, the Revolutionary Guards commander, said on Wednesday.


Gaza field hospitals prepare for another day of bloodshed

Updated 19 April 2018
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Gaza field hospitals prepare for another day of bloodshed

  • At least 33 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the ‘Great March of Return’ began last month
  • Gaza suffers from a lack of medical facilities and supplies as a result of an 11-year land, sea and air blockade by Israeli forces

GAZA: A tent consisting of nine beds and some basic medical equipment is all that will serve as a field hospital in the Zeitoun area of Gaza when Palestinians gather at the Israeli border to take part in a mass protest against the occupation on Friday.

Eleven doctors and 12 nurses work at the facility during what has become a weekly ritual of defiance and bloodshed for the people of this besieged coastal enclave. With access to only rudimentary supplies, the staff must deal with injuries caused by live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas.

When Arab News visited the hospital southeast of Gaza City last week the sound of ambulances rushing back and forth was almost non-stop as the medics worked tirelessly amid the chaos. But no one expects any respite in the month ahead, with the protesters due to return every Friday until mid-May.

“In one hour we have received more than 30 injuries, about 26 of which are to the lower limbs and from live bullets,” said Khalil Siam, a doctor who works at the hospital from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m.

Gaza’s “Great March of Return” began on March 30, when tens of thousands of protesters traveled in buses from across the strip to five locations along the Israeli border. 

The demonstration was timed to coincide with “Land Day,” an annual event when Palestinians remember the deaths of six Arab citizens killed by Israeli forces during demonstrations over land confiscations in northern Israel in 1976. It is due to continue until May 15, when Palestinians commemorate the Nakba, or catastrophe — the creation of
Israel.

On the first day of the protest at least 17 Palestinians were killed and more than 1,000 were injured as Israeli troops opened fire on the huge crowds, causing the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to call for “an independent and transparent investigation.”

Then on April 6 several more Palestinians were killed as protesters threw stones and set fire to piles of tires at the border, sending thick clouds of black smoke spiralling into the air.

A handful of field hospitals run by both volunteers and government doctors have been set up to deal with the constant stream of casualties each Friday, but they struggle to cope. Protesters critically wounded in the upper part of the body are rushed straight to Gaza’s main hospitals but staff here also find themselves increasingly overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the bloodshed.

According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, a total of 33 Palestinians have been killed and 4,300 have been injured between the start of the protests last month and April 14. Thirteen of the casualties have required amputations.

Even before the demonstrations began, Gaza suffered from a lack of medical facilities and supplies as a result of an 11-year land, sea and air blockade by Israeli forces and ongoing divisions between the two main Palestinian political factions, Fatah and Hamas.

Ashraf Al-Qidra, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health in Gaza, told Arab News that all hospitals were facing a situation of “severe attrition.”

“A large number of drugs and medical items have been drained from emergency departments, operating rooms and intensive care units due to the large number of casualties,” he said.

The Israeli government initially refused to allow injured protesters to be moved to the occupied West Bank until Israel’s High Court ruled unanimously on Monday that Yousef Al-Karnaz, a 19-year-old Palestinian, should be allowed to receive urgent medical care in Ramallah.

Al-Karnaz was shot and wounded by Israeli troops on March 30 but was not allowed to leave the strip. As a result, his left leg was amputated.

Ismail Al-Jadbah, director of the vascular department at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, told Arab News that the strip had enough doctors to cope with the casualties but lacked the necessary resources to give them the best possible care.

“In addition to a shortage of medicine, the large number of injured has put a great burden on us. Treating injuries in the right way, and in the right time, is very difficult,” he said.