East Syrian city in the grip of fierce fighting

East Syrian city in the grip of fierce fighting
In this still image made from video provided by opposition operated Step News Agency, which is consistent with independent AP reporting, a man views scenes of destruction inside a banquet hall, in Deir Qanoun, Barada Valley, Syria, in this Jan. 15, 2017 photo. (AP)
Updated 18 January 2017

East Syrian city in the grip of fierce fighting

East Syrian city in the grip of fierce fighting

BEIRUT: Fierce clashes gripped the eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzor on Wednesday, a monitor said, as the Daesh group set tires ablaze to create a smokescreen from regime warplanes.
Daesh launched the brutal assault on Saturday to capture the government-held third of Deir Ezzor city, as well as the adjacent military airport.
More than 150 people are reported to have been killed in the fighting.
Syrian and Russian warplanes have carried out intense bombing raids in a bid to halt the militant advance, according to a military source and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Daesh on Tuesday tried to generate a smokescreen to shield its positions from fresh air strikes.
The group “set tires and barrels of crude oil on fire in Deir Ezzor... to block Syrian and Russian jets heavily bombing the city,” the Observatory said.
Since Saturday, 46 regime fighters and 75 Daesh militants have been killed, along with more than 30 civilians, according to the Britain-based monitor.
A local activist group told AFP on Wednesday that Daesh had killed at least 10 Syrian government fighters captured during the clashes.
“IS (Daesh) executed them last night by driving over them with tanks,” said Omar Abu Leila of Deir Ezzor 24, which publishes news on the eastern city.
He said the gruesome killings took place inside Daesh-controlled neighborhoods of the city.
“If IS (Daesh)seizes regime-held neighborhoods, it could carry out massacres. This is a huge source of concern for us,” he said. The militant group, excluded from a nearly three-week cease-fire in Syria, has carried out mass killings of military rivals and civilians, often with particularly grisly methods.
As it advanced on the ancient city of Palmyra in 2015, it killed dozens of civilians and then staged mass executions of government troops in the city’s theater.
The World Food Programme (WFP) on Tuesday said the clashes had forced it to suspend aid drops to Deir Ezzor, where more than 100,000 people have lived under Daesh siege since early 2015.
The WFP has been dropping humanitarian aid into Deir Ezzor since April 2016, and the government-held area is the only place in Syria where the agency has permission for the drops.

Children return to school
Sifting through ripped up textbooks and writing on broken whiteboards, Syrian children returned this week to a dilapidated small-town school that was used by Daesh militants as a prison for more than two years.
With no chairs or desks, around 250 children huddled in classrooms on mats to stay off the cold concrete at the Aisha Mother of the Believers school in Al-Rai, in the northern Aleppo hinterland near the Turkish border.
The students, aged 5-15, were given notebooks and pens on their first day back on Monday by seven volunteers who teach reading, writing and maths and helped get the school habitable again over the past six weeks.
“(I feel) joy, because I was able to bring back to school this number of students in a short period,” said volunteer Khalil Al-Fayad. “(But also) heartbreak because of the bad condition (of the school).”
The school previously taught 500 students before being seized 2 1/2 years ago by Daesh insurgents, who slapped logos on school bags bearing the slogan “Cubs of the Caliphate,” residents said.
The principal and teachers fled the area when Daesh took over and parents stopped sending their children to the school, which closed after two months and was used to house prisoners of the ultra-hard-line militants.
Volunteers set about trying to return the school to its previous standards last month in Al-Rai after Syrian Free Army rebels backed by the Turkish military ousted Daesh from the area.
With shattered windows, bullet strewn walls, debris and broken equipment still present, there is plenty left to do for the team of volunteers, who say they are seeking funding from local and Turkish authorities.
“(I) fear not being able to continue what we are doing if the situation remains the same and the lack of support continues,” Al-Fayad said.


Iran says it produced 6.5 kg of uranium enriched to 60%

Iran says it produced 6.5 kg of uranium enriched to 60%
Updated 31 min 54 sec ago

Iran says it produced 6.5 kg of uranium enriched to 60%

Iran says it produced 6.5 kg of uranium enriched to 60%
  • Government spokesman said the country had also produced 108 kg of uranium enriched to 20% purity
  • Tuesday's disclosure came as Tehran and Washington hold indirect talks in Vienna over the nuclear deal

DUBAI: Iran has made 6.5 kg (14 lb) of uranium enriched to up to 60%, the government said on Tuesday, detailing a move that rattled the country's nuclear talks with world powers by taking the fissile material a step towards nuclear weapons-grade of 90%.
Government spokesman Ali Rabiei was quoted by state media as saying the country had also produced 108 kg of uranium enriched to 20% purity, indicating quicker output than the rate required by the Iranian law that created the process.
Iran said in April it would begin enriching uranium to 60% purity, a move that would take the uranium much closer to the 90% suitable for a nuclear bomb, after Tehran accused arch-foe Israel of sabotaging a key nuclear site.
Tuesday's disclosure came as Tehran and Washington hold indirect talks in Vienna aimed at finding ways to revive a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
Iran’s hardline parliament passed a law last year to oblige the government to harden its nuclear stance, partly in reaction to former President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal in 2018.
Trump’s withdrawal prompted Iran to steadily overstep the accord’s limits on its nuclear programme designed to make it harder to develop an atomic bomb - an ambition Tehran denies.
"Under parliament's law..., the Atomic Energy Organization was supposed to produce 120 kg of 20 percent enriched uranium in a year. According to the latest report, we now have produced 108 kg of 20% uranium in the past five months," Rabiei was quoted as saying.
"In the area of 60% uranium production, in the short time that has elapsed..., about 6.5 kg has been produced," Rabiei added.
A quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear activities by the U.N. nuclear watchdog in May said that, as of May 22, Tehran had produced 62.8 kg of uranium enriched up to 20%, and 2.4 kg of uranium enriched up to 60%, with the next level down being enriched to between 2% and 5%.


Rights groups urge UN probe mission for Beirut port blast

Rights groups urge UN probe mission for Beirut port blast
Updated 15 June 2021

Rights groups urge UN probe mission for Beirut port blast

Rights groups urge UN probe mission for Beirut port blast
  • Human Rights Watch said the call was made in a joint letter by over a hundred Lebanese, regional, and international groups, individuals and survivors and families of the victims

BEIRUT: A group of international and regional rights groups on Tuesday urged member states of the UN Human Rights Council to establish an investigative mission into last year’s massive deadly blast at Beirut’s port.
Human Rights Watch said the call was made in a joint letter by 53 Lebanese, regional, and international groups and individuals, as well as 62 survivors and families of the victims.
HRW said it documented many flaws in the domestic investigation of the explosion — including flagrant political interference, lack of respect for fair trial standards and violations of due process.
Nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate — a highly explosive material used in fertilizers — had been improperly stored in the port for years. The chemicals ignited in the catastrophic Aug. 4 blast that killed 211 people, injured more than 6,000 and damaged entire neighborhoods.
It still remains unknown what triggered an initial fire at the warehouse that then caused the explosion and who was responsible for storing the rotting fertilizer there since 2014.
“Lebanese authorities have had over 10 months to demonstrate that they are willing and capable of conducting a credible investigation,” said Aya Majzoub, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But they have failed on all accounts,”
Six days after the blast, the Lebanese government referred the Beirut explosion to the country’s Judicial Council, a special court with no appeals process. No indictments have been issued so far.
In December, the prosecutor probing the blast filed charges against the caretaker prime minister, Hassan Diab, and three former ministers, accusing them of negligence that led to the deaths of hundreds of people.
Two months later, the judge in the probe was replaced following legal challenges by two former Cabinet ministers he had accused of negligence.


New Israel government faces early test with far-right march

New Israel government faces early test with far-right march
Updated 15 June 2021

New Israel government faces early test with far-right march

New Israel government faces early test with far-right march
  • Jewish ultranationalists prepared to march into annexed east Jerusalem
  • Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh condemned it as a provocation

JERUSALEM: Israel’s fledgling new government faced an early test Tuesday as Jewish ultranationalists prepared to march into annexed east Jerusalem, stoking tensions the UN has warned threaten a fragile Gaza cease-fire.
Rallies by far-right Jewish groups in Arab neighborhoods have raised tensions in recent months, prompting a police intervention in the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound that triggered the deadliest flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence since 2014.
The so-called March of the Flags, which celebrates the anniversary of Israel’s 1967 occupation of the city’s eastern sector, was originally scheduled for last Thursday but was delayed due to Israeli police opposition to the route and warnings from Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas.
The former government of veteran premier Benjamin Netanyahu put off the march until Tuesday, a decision confirmed late Monday by the incoming government of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
“The right to demonstrate is a right in all democracies,” said Internal Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev.
“The police is ready and we will do everything in our power to preserve the delicate thread of coexistence.”
Organizers consulted police on the best route for the march that begins at 1430 GMT to avoid friction with Arab residents, the government said.
But Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh condemned it as a provocation.
“We warn of the dangerous repercussions that may result from the occupying power’s intention to allow extremist Israeli settlers to carry out the Flag March in occupied Jerusalem tomorrow,” Shtayyeh tweeted in English.
He said it was “a provocation and aggression against our people, Jerusalem and its sanctities that must end.”
The new Israeli premier is himself a Jewish nationalist but the coalition he leads also includes centrist and left-wing parties and, for the first time in the country’s history, an Arab party.
The support of the four lawmakers of the Islamic conservative Raam party was vital to the wafer-thin majority that the government won in a historic confidence vote that unseated Netanyahu on Sunday.
UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland urged all sides to behave responsibly to avoid damage to a hard-won May 21 cease-fire that ended 11 days of heavy fighting in and around Gaza.
“Tensions are rising again in Jerusalem at a very fragile & sensitive security & political time, when UN & Egypt are actively engaged in solidifying the cease-fire,” Wennesland said.
“Urge all relevant parties to act responsibly & avoid any provocations that could lead to another round of confrontation.”
The US embassy called on its staff to avoid entering the walled Old City in the heart of east Jerusalem because of the march and “possible counter-demonstrations.”
Israel’s annexation of east Jerusalem since the Six-Day War of 1967 is not recognized by most of the international community which says the city’s final status should be a matter of negotiation between the two sides.
The Palestinians claim the city’s eastern sector as the capital of their future state.
The iconic Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the heart of the Old City is Islam’s third holiest site and a national symbol for all Palestinians regardless of religion.
It is also considered by Jews to be Judaism’s holiest site but by longstanding convention Jews are not allowed to pray inside the compound and visits by Israeli Jewish politicians often trigger disturbances.
When the march was originally announced for last week, senior Hamas official Khalil Hayya warned it could spark a return to violence like that of May 10-21.
“We warn the occupation (Israel) against letting the march approach east Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque compound,” Hayya said.
“We hope the message is clear so that Thursday doesn’t become (a new) May 10.”
Last month’s conflict started after Hamas issued a deadline for Israel to remove its security forces from flashpoint areas of east Jerusalem, and then fired a salvo of rockets at Israel when the ultimatum went unheeded.
Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip between May 10 to 21 killed 260 Palestinians including some fighters, the Gaza authorities said.
In Israel, 13 people were killed, including a soldier, by rockets fired from Gaza, the Israeli police and army said.


UAE imposes new COVID-19 measures for charter flight passengers from India and Pakistan

UAE imposes new COVID-19 measures for charter flight passengers from India and Pakistan
Updated 15 June 2021

UAE imposes new COVID-19 measures for charter flight passengers from India and Pakistan

UAE imposes new COVID-19 measures for charter flight passengers from India and Pakistan
  • Passengers must wear tracking devices for a minimum of 10 days in a new circular from the General Civil Aviation Authority
  • Those who arrived in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Ras Al-Khaimah, have already been given the devices

DUBAI: The UAE has imposed new coronavirus measures for charter flights arriving from countries including India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Nepal and Uganda.
Passengers must wear tracking devices for a minimum of 10 days in a new circular from the General Civil Aviation Authority.
Those who arrived in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Ras Al-Khaimah, have already been given the devices, travel agencies and charter flight operators confirmed, local daily Khaleej Times reported.
Abu Dhabi has also been requiring arriving passengers to wear the devices during their 14-day home quarantine, since September of 2020.
Arrivals must also take a PCR test after landing in the country followed by two other PCR tests on the fourth and eighth day of their isolation period.
In Dubai, travelers have to isolate for 10 days and undergo a PCR test, Raheesh Babu, group COO of Musafir.com, an internet travel agency, said.
Crew members operating from the listed countries are also required to abide by the new regulations.
Passengers must also quarantine in a hotel during the transit period, and are only allowed movement when transferring between the hotel and the airport, without being in contact with people in the UAE community, the circular said.


Shoukry visits Qatar to convey message from El-Sisi

Shoukry visits Qatar to convey message from El-Sisi
Qatar's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of State for Defense Affairs Khalid bin Mohamed al-Attiyah (R) meeting with Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in Doha on June 14, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 15 June 2021

Shoukry visits Qatar to convey message from El-Sisi

Shoukry visits Qatar to convey message from El-Sisi
  • Shoukry will attend the first meeting of the Palestine Committee

CAIRO: Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry arrived in Doha on Monday to convey a message from President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani on the positive developments in Egyptian-Qatari relations following the signing of the “Al-Ula reconciliation agreement” on Jan. 5.
It also expressed Egypt’s aspiration to take further measures to advance the priority areas of bilateral cooperation to achieve the interests of the two countries and their people.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Hafez said in a statement that Shoukry will take part during his visit to Doha in the consultative meeting of Arab foreign ministers, which will be held at the invitation of Qatar — the president of the current session of the Council of the Arab League — to resume coordination and consultation on the current situation in the region, and ways to strengthen joint action mechanisms regarding the growing challenges facing Arab countries.

HIGHLIGHT

Shoukry will also participate in the ministerial level extraordinary meeting of the Arab League Council to discuss developments of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam issue, which will be held at the request of Egypt and Sudan following the consultative meeting of Arab foreign ministers.

Shoukry will also participate in the ministerial level extraordinary meeting of the Arab League Council to discuss developments of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam issue, which will be held at the request of Egypt and Sudan following the consultative meeting of Arab foreign ministers.
He will also attend the first meeting of the Palestine Committee.
A meeting is also scheduled with Shoukry and Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani.