Israel kills two teenagers in Gaza and bombs ‘military targets’

Israeli soldiers and border police stand guard as Israeli hydraulic shovels demolish a Palestinian building near road 35, north of the occupied West Bank city of Hebron in the so-called “Area C” on February 14, 2018. (Hazem Bader/AFP)
Updated 18 February 2018
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Israel kills two teenagers in Gaza and bombs ‘military targets’

GAZA CITY: Israeli forces shot dead two Palestinian teenagers in the Gaza Strip as tensions rose after an apparent bomb attack that wounded several Israeli soldiers on the besieged territory’s border.
The Saturday explosion and ensuing Israeli airstrikes marked one of the most serious escalations in the Hamas-ruled territory since the movement and Israel fought a war in 2014.
Israel’s army said it attacked “18 terror targets belonging to the Hamas terror organization” in two waves of airstrikes.
“Eight targets were attacked in a military compound near Deir El-Balah, which belongs to the Hamas terror organization, including weapon-manufacturing and training infrastructures,” it said.
Earlier the army said fighter jets had targeted “six military targets in Gaza belonging to Hamas, including a terror tunnel in the Zaytun area and military compounds near Deir El-Balah and Khan Yunis.”
Two Palestinians were injured in airstrikes which hit three bases belonging to Hamas in the east of the blockaded Gaza enclave, Palestinian sources said. Speaking at a security conference in Munich late Saturday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had called the border blast “very serious” and pledged to “respond appropriately.”
According to witnesses, the two dead Palestinians were shot by Israeli forces near the border on Saturday.
They were identified by the Gaza health ministry as Salam Sabah and Abdullah Abu Sheikha, both 17, who were killed east of Rafah in the south of the enclave.
They were to be buried later on Sunday.
The Israeli army said that its forces had fired “warning shots” at a number of Palestinians approaching the border fence “in a suspicious manner.”
Four Israeli soldiers were wounded, two severely, when an improvised explosive device blew up along the Gaza border fence, but none of their lives were in danger, the army said.
A hospital spokeswoman later said that the condition of one of those seriously wounded had improved.
Spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said a “rogue group” had claimed responsibility for the bomb blast, likely indicating one of the more radical groups who are present in Gaza.
But he insisted that “from our point of view Hamas is responsible” and said the explosive had been planted during a protest arranged by the group on Friday.
According to Conricus, Israeli soldiers saw a flag on a pole on the Gazan side of the border fence, with the device exploding when one of them grabbed it.
According to Palestinian security sources, the explosion took place east of the city of Khan Yunis.
In response Israeli forces said a tank promptly opened fire at an “observation post” in southern Gaza, causing no injuries on the Palestinian side.
A projectile launched from the Gaza Strip hit near a home in a southern Israeli community, damaging a building but causing no injuries, Israeli authorities said.
The Israeli army responds automatically to any strikes on its territory, generally targeting Hamas facilities.
Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, said it had fired at Israeli jets overhead.
Hamas and Israel have fought three wars since 2008, and the last conflict in 2014 was waged in part over tunnels from Gaza that were used to launch attacks. The wars have had a devastating impact on the Palestinian civilians trapped in Gaza, killing hundreds and further decimating their homes and infrastructure. Israel hit Hamas targets in the southern Gaza Strip repeatedly in early February, saying Palestinians there had fired a rocket into its territory.
Tensions between the Palestinians and Israel have been high since US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state in December.
Netanyahu will visit the White House next month, a senior US administration official told AFP on Friday.
The March 5 visit comes as Netanyahu faces a scandal that has seen police recommend he be indicted for graft.


Iran’s domestic car market stalls as nuclear deal falters

Updated 21 September 2018
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Iran’s domestic car market stalls as nuclear deal falters

  • Iran’s auto industry suffered under US and Western sanctions, which targeted Iran over fears about its nuclear program
  • There are fears by some business analysts in Iran that any downturn in the auto industry would further worsen unemployment in the country

TEHRAN, Iran: Across Iran’s capital, rush-hour traffic always grinds to a halt, a sea of boxy Renault four-doors and Peugeot coupes all idling their way through the streets of Tehran.
Soon, however, Iran’s faltering nuclear deal with world powers may be what causes the country’s domestic automotive market to stall out.
As Iran’s currency, the rial, suffers precipitous falls against the US dollar — down some 140 percent since President Donald Trump withdrew America from the accord — cars are growing more and more expensive even as tens of thousands clamor to order domestic models online. Meanwhile, Western manufacturers are pulling out of the country and foreign-produced parts are becoming harder to find as Chinese cars fill the void.
“It is clear and obvious that the US is purposefully putting pressure on the people of Iran to instigate discontent” over the auto market, said Mohammad Reza Najfimaneh, the head of the Iranian Specialized Manufacturers of Auto Parts Association.
Iran, one of the Mideast’s biggest countries and home to 80 million people, has a huge demand for automobiles. In 2017 alone, Iran produced more than 1.5 million cars, up some 14 percent from the year before, according to a report by Iran’s Ministry of Industries, Mines and Trade earlier this year.
Some 90 percent of market share is controlled by two local companies: Iran Khodro, which assembles Peugeot-branded vehicles from kits, and SAIPA, which has made Citroens and Kias. Both manufacturers also build Renaults.
Iran’s auto industry suffered under US and Western sanctions, which targeted Iran over fears about its nuclear program. The West worries Iran could use its technology to build atomic bombs. Iran long has said its program is for peaceful purposes.
The 2015 nuclear deal, which saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of some sanctions, provided a needed boost to the industry.
French car-maker PSA Peugeot Citroen reached a deal in 2016 to open a plant producing 200,000 vehicles annually in Iran. Fellow French automobile manufacturer Groupe Renault signed a $778-million deal to build 150,000 cars a year at a factory outside of Tehran. Meanwhile, Volkswagen announced plans to import vehicles into Iran.
Now, however, those firms have pulled back on those plans.
Concern over Iran’s domestic auto industry has been high. That was shown in a visit to Iran-Khodro last week by Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.
“The enemy in the economic war is after damaging public contentment and the auto industry is one of the front lines in the war,” Shamkhani said during his visit.
More than 100,000 people are employed by Iran-Khodro and SAIPA, while another 700,000 Iranians work in industries related to car manufacturing.
There are fears by some business analysts in Iran that any downturn in the auto industry would further worsen unemployment in the country.
Iran’s official unemployment rate is 12.3 percent, meaning some 3 million people are out of work, but experts believe it is much higher, especially among university graduates. Those unemployed often try to scrape enough money together to work as taxi drivers in the city, meaning they could be doubly hit.
Meanwhile, the drop in the Iranian rial has made buying a car difficult. The rial traded at 62,000 to the dollar before Trump’s pullout from the nuclear deal in May. It has gone as high as 150,000 to $1 since.
“I saved some money to buy an Iranian car, but prices jumped and factories do not provide cars on time,” said Mahin Tabrizi, a 45-year-old teacher. “I don’t know what I can do.”
Those prices also have hurt auto parts sales.
“Prices of car parts are crazy, all because of the sanctions,” said Mahmoud Rahimi, a taxi driver. “I bought brake pads for my car for double the price in less than a year.”
Even those who pay for an Iranian car can face delays in having them delivered. Iranian car production reportedly dropped 29 percent in June compared to the same month last year. Analysts blamed that on lack of parts due to currency fluctuation.
Meanwhile, importing a foreign car grows more expensive as the rial drops in value. Iran places import taxes of more than 100 percent on foreign cars. A ban on importing foreign cars also has been in force since April, halting new orders.
“Nearly two years ago, I paid for an imported car, yet they have not delivered it due to upheavals in the rial rate and sanctions,” said Reza Piltan, a retired engineer waiting for an SUV by South Korean manufacturer SSangYong.
In the absence of Western car makers, however, China is already starting to show up in the country. A new dealership for Chinese automaker Chery recently opened in Tehran. Iranian lawmaker Vali Maleki, a member of the parliamentary committee on industry, last month suggested that Chinese companies can take over the share of other foreign companies that have left the Iranian market.
“The Chinese cars are selling very well in Iran,” car dealer Ali Razavi said. “Their dealerships offer a wide range of methods of leasing and financing that enable many customers to buy a new car for just about $2,000 to $4,000.” Those cars are partly assembled in Iran.
Demand is still strong for Iranian-made cars as well, however.
Last week, in less than an hour, 50,000 customers rushed the website of SAIPA to pay nearly $2,000 each to buy cars that the company plans to make in the future. The move is largely an effort by buyers to save on their purchases as the rial continues to fall. Another factory, Iran-Khodro, has a similar plan for selling future cars next week.
Still, anger over quality lurks.
“In other countries people pay small advance fees to buy a standard car based on installments,” said Fatemeh Azari, whose son last week managed to buy a car on SAIPA’s website. “Here, we pay all the money in advance to receive a clunker months later.”