Iran sets up new base near disputed islands

Updated 06 November 2012

Iran sets up new base near disputed islands

TEHRAN: Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards inaugurated a new naval base yesterday to reinforce Tehran’s authority over three Persian Gulf islands also claimed by the neighboring United Arab Emirates, Iranian state TV reported.
The base near the Iranian mainland’s southern port of Bandar-e Lengeh some 1,100 kilometers (700 miles) south of Tehran is the Guards’ fifth in the Gulf. The Guards’ navy chief Gen. Ali Fadavi said missile and marine units have been deployed there.
It lies north of the Iranian-controlled islands of Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb that dominate the approach to the strategic Strait of Hormuz, a key waterway through which about one-fifth of the world’s oil supply passes.
The Revolutionary Guard and the US Navy both patrol the narrow waterway, which Iran had threatened to choke off in retaliation for tougher Western sanctions over its suspect nuclear program.
Iran took control of the Persian Gulf islands in 1971, after British forces left the region. Since 1992, the UAE has repeatedly claimed the islands and last month at the UN General Assembly, it said Iran’s “occupation” violates international law.
In April, a visit by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the islands inflamed the dispute over the territories and prompted an outcry by UAE and its Arab allies. Tehran later vowed to develop the islands through tourism and other industries, though little has been reported on that since the visit. During the inauguration of the base, Guards chief Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari expressed the hope that new base could support economic development of the islands.
Tehran says the islands have been part of states that existed on the Iranian mainland from antiquity until the British occupied them in the early 20th century.
Tehran also maintains that an agreement signed eight years before its 1979 Islamic Revolution between Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and the ruler of one of the UAE’s seven emirates, Sharjah, gives it the right to administer Abu Musa and station troops there.
There was no agreement on the other two islands. The UAE insists they belonged to the emirate of Ras Al-Khaimah until Iran captured them by force days before the UAE statehood in 1971.
Also Sunday, Iranian newspapers reported that the country has produced a domestically-made drone capable of hovering in midair.
The conservative Resalat said an advanced vertical take-off and landing or VTOL drone will be displayed in February. It quoted Abbas Jam, who is director of the project, as saying that the drone can also fly in silence.
Earlier in October Iran said it obtained images of sensitive Israeli bases taken by a drone that was launched by Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement that month and downed by Israel.
Iran says other drones made dozens of apparently undetected flights into Israeli airspace from Lebanon in recent years. Israel has rejected that.
Iran frequently claims breakthroughs in military technology and other achievements. Most are impossible to independently confirm.


Lebanon repatriates nationals in rare flights despite virus

Updated 16 min 39 sec ago

Lebanon repatriates nationals in rare flights despite virus

  • Health personnel in protective gear took the temperature of disembarking passengers
  • Authorities said more than 20,000 had signed up to be repatriated in total this week and at the end of the month

BEIRUT: Lebanon on Sunday started repatriating nationals stranded abroad in its first flight in weeks since it closed its international airport to stem the novel coronavirus.
The first of four planes touched down at the Beirut international airport late Sunday morning bringing in 78 passengers from Riyadh, local television reported.
It showed health personnel in protective gear taking the temperature of disembarking passengers.
The Mediterranean country announced a lockdown and closed its airport on March 18 as part of measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, which has officially infected 527 people and killed 18 nationwide.
An AFP photographer saw a dozen buses outside the airport waiting to transport the passengers.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab had arrived earlier amid heavy deployment of the Lebanese army, he said.
Authorities said more than 20,000 had signed up to be repatriated in total this week and at the end of the month.
Lebanese carrier Middle East Airlines has said flights would also land in Beirut on Sunday from Abu Dhabi, Lagos and Abidjan.
It has also announced return trips to Paris, Madrid and Kinshasa on Tuesday.
Lebanese returning home must either test negative for the virus no longer than three days before their return, or be tested immediately upon arrival, according to government guidelines.
They must pay for their own ticket and their families are not allowed to meet them at the airport.
The government has said priority will be given to those with critical health conditions such as diabetes or cancer, those aged over 60 and under 18, and families.
But critics have complained of steep ticket fares, while a financial crisis has severely restricted transactions from Lebanese bank accounts.
Coronavirus is the latest crisis to hit Lebanon, which is already reeling under a crumbling economy.
Due to an acute liquidity crisis, banks have since September increasingly been restricting access to dollars and have halted money transfers abroad.
On Monday, however, the banking association agreed to allow dollar transfers to Lebanese students outside the country to help them face the coronavirus pandemic, the finance ministry said.
Diab on Sunday told reporters the government was studying the possibility of supporting returning Lebanese students with a ticket.
Lebanese expatriates and activists have clamoured online for MEA to lower the price of its tickets and help those who can’t afford it.
The airline on Friday claimed tickets were more expensive — $650 for an economy class seat from Riyadh and $1,800 for a cheaper fare from Abidjan for example — because planes would be empty on the way out to evacuations.