Revolutionary Guards deployed to crush Iran demonstrations

A portrait of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani with shoe marks over it is seen during a protest on Wednesday in Paris in support of demonstrations in Iranian cities. (AFP)
Updated 04 January 2018
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Revolutionary Guards deployed to crush Iran demonstrations

LONDON/WASHINGTON: Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards deployed forces on Wednesday to three provinces to put down an eruption of anti-regime unrest as US President Donald Trump assured the demonstrators of support “at a suitable time.”
The protests, that have rattled the clerical leadership and left 21 people dead, began last week out of frustration over economic hardships suffered by the youth and working class. Now they 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 shouting “death to the dictator” — an apparent reference to Khamenei.
Iranian opposition leaders in the UK are “disgusted” at the failure of British politicians, including Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn to condemn regime brutality as the death toll continues to climb seven days after protests began in Iran.
“Both the prime minister and the opposition party here have stayed completely silent when Iranian youth are being slaughtered in the streets of Iran,” said Laila Jazayeri, director of the Association of Anglo/Iranian Women in the UK.
Three members of Iran’s intelligence forces were killed in clashes in the western city of Piranshahr on Wednesday, Mehr news agency reported, citing a statement from the Revolutionary Guards.
The three died “in a fight with anti-revolutionary elements,” the statement read.
The statement did not say if the fight was related to the anti-government protests in Iran.
In a sign of official concern about the resilience of the protests, the Revolutionary Guards commander, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, said he had dispatched forces to Hamadan, Isfahan and Lorestan provinces to tackle “the new sedition.”
In a state-sponsored show of force aimed at countering the outpouring of dissent, thousands of Iranians also took part in pro-regime 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.
They accused the US, Israel and Britain of inciting protests, shouting, “The seditionist rioters should be executed!”
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.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed concern about the loss of life and called for the security forces and demonstrators to avoid further violence, his spokesman said in a statement.
Germany’s government said protests “deserve our respect.” A spokeswoman for Chancellor Angela Merkel said Berlin is closely watching developments in the country.


US, allies set to evacuate Syrian aid workers from southwest

Updated 20 July 2018
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US, allies set to evacuate Syrian aid workers from southwest

  • US officials say the United States is finalizing plans to evacuate several hundred Syrian civil defense workers and their families from southwest Syria
  • Two officials familiar with the plans said Thursday that the US, Britain and Canada are spearheading the evacuation that would transport members of the White Helmets group to transit camps

WASHINGTON: US officials say the United States is finalizing plans to evacuate several hundred Syrian civil defense workers and their families from southwest Syria as Russian-backed government forces close in on the area.
Two officials familiar with the plans said Thursday that the US, Britain and Canada are spearheading the evacuation that would transport members of the White Helmets group to transit camps in neighboring countries. From there, they will be sent to third countries, including Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and possibly Canada, according to the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter.
The officials, and a member of the White Helmets who is due to be evacuated from Quneitra province, said the operation appears to be imminent as the Syrian army continues to gain ground in its latest offensive. The White Helmets, who have enjoyed backing from the US and other Western nations for years, are likely to be targeted by Syrian forces as they retake control of the southwest, according to the officials.
The officials said planning for the evacuation has been taking place for some time but accelerated after last week’s NATO summit in Brussels.
“These are hard hours and minutes,” the White Helmets volunteer in Quneitra said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear for his life. “This is the worst day of my life. I hope they rescue us before it is too late.”
The evacuation is expected to take place from Quneitra, which straddles the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and where the civil defense team is trapped. It is the last sliver of land still outside government control in the region.
Since the government offensive began in June, the area along the frontier with the Golan Heights has been the safest in the southwestern region, attracting hundreds of displaced people because is along the disengagement line with Israel demarcated in 1974 after a war. The Syrian government is unlikely to fire there or carry out airstrikes.
Negotiations are also ongoing to evacuate armed rebels and their families who don’t want to accept the return of the rule of Bashar Assad’s government to Quneitra, which the rebels have controlled for years. The fighters will be evacuated to the northern part of Syria, where the opposition still holds sway.
Except for that sliver of land, the southern tip of the southwestern region lies along the border with Jordan and the Golan Heights and is occupied by a Daesh-affiliated group. The area is expected to be the target of the next government advances and the civil defense teams don’t operate there.
The White Helmets are not without controversy. They only operate in opposition-held areas, where government services are almost non-existent and aerial bombings are recurrent. Syrian government supporters accuse them of being politically affiliated with the rebel groups. Russia and the Syrian government have repeatedly accused them of staging chemical attacks in opposition areas, a charge that has never been proven.
They have continued to receive US support even as President Donald Trump presses ahead with his plans to withdraw all American forces from Syria as soon as Islamic State forces are routed.
In June, the State Department freed up a small portion — $6.6 million out of some $200 million — in frozen funding for Syria stabilization programs to keep the White Helmets operating through the end of this year.
In other parts of Syria, where government control has been restored, civil defense volunteers have almost always evacuated to other opposition-controlled areas. It is not clear why this time they will be evacuated out of the country.