Britain seizes Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar over Syria sanctions

Britain seizes Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar over Syria sanctions
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A view of the Grace 1 super tanker near a Royal Marine patrol vessel in the British territory of Gibraltar, Thursday, July 4, 2019. (AP)
Britain seizes Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar over Syria sanctions
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Grace 1 super tanker is anchored near a Royal Marine patrol vessel in the British territory of Gibraltar, Thursday, July 4, 2019. (AP)
Britain seizes Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar over Syria sanctions
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People walk on a seaside promenade as supertanker Grace 1 (rear C) suspected of carrying crude oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions appears in the background after it was detained off the coast of Gibraltar on July 4, 2019. (AFP / JORGE GUERRERO)
Updated 06 July 2019

Britain seizes Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar over Syria sanctions

Britain seizes Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar over Syria sanctions
  • Tehran summons UK envoy to voice ‘its very strong objection to the unacceptable seizure’
  • The Grace 1 vessel was halted in the early hours of Thursday by Gibraltar police and customs agencies

MADRID/LONDON/DUBAI: British Royal Marines seized a giant Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar on Thursday for trying to take oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions, a dramatic step that drew Tehran’s fury and could escalate its confrontation with the West.

The Grace 1 tanker was impounded in the British territory on the southern tip of Spain after sailing around Africa, the long route from the Middle East to the mouth of the Mediterranean.

“We have reason to believe that the ‘Grace 1’ was carrying its shipment of crude oil to the Banyas Refinery in Syria,” Picardo said in a statement. “That refinery is the property of an entity that is subject to European Union sanctions against Syria.”

The Grace 1 is a Panamanian-flagged tanker, according to the shipping trade publication Lloyd’s List.

“We have detained the vessel and its cargo,” Picardo said.

Spain's caretaker foreign minister Josep Borrell said the tanker was stopped by British authorities after a request from the United States.

The EU and others have imposed sanctions on Assad's government over its continued crackdown against civilians. They currently target 270 people and 70 entities.


'Unacceptable seizure'

Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned the British ambassador to voice “its very strong objection to the illegal and unacceptable seizure” of its ship. 

The diplomatic gesture lifted any doubt over Iran’s ownership of the vessel, which flies a Panama flag and is listed as managed by a company in Singapore.

Shipping data reviewed by Reuters suggests the tanker was carrying Iranian oil loaded off the coast of Iran, although its documents say the oil is from neighboring Iraq.

While Europe has banned oil shipments to Syria since 2011, it had never seized a tanker at sea. Unlike the US, Europe does not have broad sanctions against Iran.

The EU has imposed sanctions on 277 Syrian officials including government ministers over their role in the “violent repression” of civilians.

It has frozen the assets of some 72 entities and introduced an embargo on Syrian oil, investment restrictions and a freeze on Syrian central bank assets within the European Union.

“This is the first time that the EU has done something so public and so aggressive. I imagine it was also coordinated in some manner with the US given that NATO member forces have been involved,” said Matthew Oresman, a partner with law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman who advises firms on sanctions.

“This is likely to have been meant as a signal to Syria and Iran — as well as the US — that Europe takes sanctions enforcement seriously and that the EU can also respond to Iranian brinkmanship related to ongoing nuclear negotiations.”

 

Caught by its own admission

Authorities in Gibraltar made no reference to the source of the oil or the ownership of the ship when they seized it.

But Iran’s acknowledgment that it owned the ship, and the likelihood that its cargo was also Iranian, drew a link between the incident and a new US effort to halt all global sales of Iranian crude. Iran describes that as an illegal “economic war.”

Iran has long been supplying its allies in Syria with oil despite sanctions against Syria. What is new are US sanctions on Iran itself, imposed last year when President Donald Trump pulled out of an agreement that had guaranteed Tehran access to world trade in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May welcomed Gibraltar’s move.

Spain, which challenges British ownership of Gibraltar, said the action was prompted by a US request to Britain and appeared to have taken place in Spanish waters.

Gibraltar is a British overseas territory, a small rocky outcrop on Spain’s southern tip.


Syria’s upcoming presidential election stirs bitterness, disappointment in refugees

Syria’s upcoming presidential election stirs bitterness, disappointment in refugees
Updated 44 sec ago

Syria’s upcoming presidential election stirs bitterness, disappointment in refugees

Syria’s upcoming presidential election stirs bitterness, disappointment in refugees
  • News that Syria’s embassies had opened for voter registration was met with disappointment by refugees in Lebanon
  • Syrian refugees in Lebanon have been distributed in the Bekaa Valley and on the country’s northern borders since arriving in Lebanon

BEIRUT: Syrian refugees in Lebanon have expressed bitterness and disappointment ahead of elections that are expected to keep President Bashar Assad in office.

The Syrian Parliament has set May 26 as the date for the poll.

Assad won in 2014 with more than 88 percent of the Syrian vote. He has not officially announced his candidacy to run in next month’s election.

News that Syria’s embassies had opened for voter registration was met with disappointment by refugees in Lebanon, who also expressed their frustration with the international community.

Abu Ahmad Souaiba, speaking on behalf of the Voice of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon, said the revolution was launched to “achieve freedom and dignity.”

“Our disappointment today is great because of the failure to implement (UN) Security Council resolutions, which call for power transition not the re-election of Bashar Assad one more time,” he told Arab News.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon have been distributed in the Bekaa Valley and on the country’s northern borders since arriving in Lebanon, with the majority of those who took part in the revolution against Assad concentrated in the Arsal area.

“There are three segments of Syrians in Lebanon,” said Souaiba. “One segment includes families who have been living in Lebanon since before the revolution and those who are not affiliated with the opposition. The second includes the opposition, and these migrated to Lebanon in 2013 and 2014 because of the barrels of death (barrel bombs). The third includes those who are neither with the opposition nor with the regime, and those (people) came to Lebanon because of the economic crisis and are concerned about obtaining their livelihood and the sustenance of their families.”

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the number of registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon decreased to 865,500 by the end of Dec. 2020.

Lebanon called on the UNHCR to suspend new registrations at the beginning of 2015. 

About 55,000 have returned to Syria in recent years as part of repatriation efforts by Lebanese General Security and as part of a reconciliation program sponsored by Hezbollah in some Syrian towns.

Rumors are circulating that Hezbollah has set up committees to fill out census forms with the number of Syrian refugees present in certain areas ahead of taking them to voting stations on polling day.

Talk of a Hezbollah census has coincided with information that the Ministry of Interior is waiting for UNHCR data in order to prepare a mechanism for calculating the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

The ministry has been assigned this task in coordination with the Ministry of Social Affairs, Lebanese General Security and the UNHCR.

Arab News contacted UNHCR spokesperson Lisa Abu Khaled, but she refused to comment and only said there was “currently no refugee census.”

Souaiba believed there was no need to recount the refugees because, around six weeks ago, a census was carried out by NGOs under the supervision of Lebanese military intelligence for refugees in camps and settlements, specifically in the Arsal area which is open to the land connecting Lebanese and Syrian territories.

He also said there was news from inside Syria of hunger, even in Damascus, and painted a bleak picture of people’s desperation to escape.

“There is no fuel and no electricity,” he added. “A woman who fled to Lebanon with her children told me that her husband was arrested by Syrian authorities and his fate is still unknown. She is almost dying of starvation with her children. She preferred to flee to Lebanon with her children and borrowed $100 to pay the smuggler. She thought that in Lebanon she would receive some food, and this is better than hunger in Syria.”

A UNHCR study estimated that 89 percent of Syrian refugee families were living below the extreme poverty line in Lebanon in 2020, compared to 55 percent in 2019.


Iran, IAEA start talks on unexplained uranium traces

Iran, IAEA start talks on unexplained uranium traces
Updated 2 min 27 sec ago

Iran, IAEA start talks on unexplained uranium traces

Iran, IAEA start talks on unexplained uranium traces
  • Failure to make progress on explaining the uranium traces could mean world powers would push for a resolution by June

VIENNA: The UN nuclear watchdog and Iran on Monday started talks aimed at obtaining explanations from Tehran on the origin of uranium traces at found at undeclared locations in Iran, an issue which could affect efforts to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal.
An agreement to hold the talks helped persuade European powers to hold off of seeking a resolution criticizing Iran at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation Board of Governors last month.
That avoided an escalation between Iran and the West that could have hurt efforts to bring Washington and Tehran back into full compliance with the 2015 deal, under which Iran agreed to curbs to its nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions.
Failure to make progress on explaining the uranium traces in the IAEA’s talks with Tehran could mean France, Britain and Germany would push for a resolution with US backing by the next IAEA board meeting in June.
“The IAEA and Iran began today to engage in a focused process aimed at clarifying outstanding safeguards issues,” the IAEA said in a statement, adding that the meeting was at the level of experts.
The Iran nuclear deal effectively drew a line under what the IAEA and US intelligence agencies believe was a secret, coordinated nuclear weapons program that Iran halted in 2003. Iran denies ever seeking nuclear weapons.
In the past two years, however, IAEA inspectors have found traces of processed uranium at three sites Iran never declared to the watchdog, suggesting that Tehran had nuclear material connected to old activities that remains unaccounted for.
The IAEA must track that material down to be sure Iran is not diverting any to make nuclear weapons.
The issue has been a complicating factor in the diplomatic effort to resurrect the 2015 deal, which then-US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018 prompting Iran to violate some of its limits. President Joe Biden aims to resurrect the deal, but Washington and Tehran are at odds over how to do that.
A first IAEA-Iran meeting to discuss the uranium traces had been due to take place in Tehran in early April, but that was delayed just as talks to rescue the deal, involving its remaining parties and shuttle diplomacy with the United States, were being arranged in Vienna.
“Today’s meeting took place in Vienna, as participating Iranian experts are also involved in separate meetings on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action at another location in the Austrian capital,” the IAEA said, using the deal’s full name.


Ethiopia rejected 15 Egyptian ideas to resolve Nile dam dispute: Water minister

Ethiopia rejected 15 Egyptian ideas to resolve Nile dam dispute: Water minister
Updated 46 min 5 sec ago

Ethiopia rejected 15 Egyptian ideas to resolve Nile dam dispute: Water minister

Ethiopia rejected 15 Egyptian ideas to resolve Nile dam dispute: Water minister
  • Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry highlights project developments on African tour as Addis Ababa accused of ‘intransigence’
  • Minister of Water Mohammed Abdel-Ati said that Egypt had presented 15 scenarios for filling and operating the dam in a way that met with Ethiopian requirements

CAIRO: Ethiopia had rejected 15 different ideas put forward by Egypt to help resolve a bitter row over the development of a highly controversial Nile dam project, a senior minister has revealed.

Egyptian Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation Mohammed Abdel-Ati said Addis Ababa had poured cold water on all of Cairo’s suggestions to reach agreement about water rights and other issues related to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) scheme.

His claims came as Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry embarked on a tour of African countries to highlight Egypt’s position regarding the latest developments in the GERD negotiations.

During his trip – taking in Comoros, South Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Senegal, Kenya, and Tunisia – Shoukry delivered letters from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to the leaders of the countries explaining Cairo’s stance on the matter.

Ahmed Hafez, a spokesman for the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, said the tour was aimed at reviving talks and supporting the process of reaching a binding legal agreement between Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia on issues such as the filling and operation of the dam.

Addressing a meeting of the Egyptian Senate’s defense and national security committee, Abdel-Ati said Cairo had shown great flexibility during its discussions with Ethiopia.

He pointed out that most of Egypt’s estimated annual 60 billion cubic meters of water resources came from the Nile, with limited quantities of rainwater and deep groundwater from the deserts.

“The total water needs in Egypt reach about 114 billion cubic meters annually,” he added.

The supply gap was compensated for through the reuse of agricultural drainage water and surface groundwater in the Nile valley and delta, in addition to importing food products from abroad corresponding to 34 billion cubic meters of water annually, he said.

Abdel-Ati blamed the failure in negotiations on Ethiopian “intransigence” and “unilateral measures” taken by Addis Ababa.

“Egypt has already signed the initials of the Washington agreement, which confirms Egypt’s clear desire to reach a deal,” the minister added.

He noted that Egypt had presented 15 scenarios for filling and operating the dam in a way that met with Ethiopian requirements and prevented tangible harm to the two downstream countries, but Ethiopia had dismissed the proposals.

The volume of rainwater in Ethiopia amounted to more than 935 billion cubic meters per year, and 94 percent of its land was green compared to 6 percent in Egypt, Abdel-Ati said.

He added that Ethiopia had more than 100 million livestock animals that consumed 84 billion cubic meters of water annually, which was equal to the combined water share of Egypt and Sudan, and its share of blue water (running water in the river) was about 150 billion cubic meters every year.

Ethiopia, he said, also withdrew water from Lake Tana for agricultural uses.


UK calls on Israel to ensure free Palestinian elections

UK calls on Israel to ensure free Palestinian elections
Updated 19 April 2021

UK calls on Israel to ensure free Palestinian elections

UK calls on Israel to ensure free Palestinian elections
  • British Consulate in Jerusalem: ‘Recent disruption of meetings in East Jerusalem, arrest of candidates unacceptable’
  • ‘If Israel decides to intervene in elections for other people, there should be consequences,’ expert tells Arab News

LONDON: The British government has called on Israel to ensure free and fair Palestinian elections take place in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“Palestinian voters want free, fair and inclusive elections throughout the West Bank and Gaza,” the British Consulate in Jerusalem tweeted.

“We call on Israel to facilitate elections in line with the Oslo Accords. The recent disruption of meetings in East Jerusalem and arrest of candidates is unacceptable.”

Elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council are expected to be held on May 22. Last week, Israeli police arrested three candidates as they were preparing to hold a news conference.

Two of those arrested were representing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party. The third is a candidate for the Palestinian Democratic Union.

“It’s extremely welcome that the British Consulate in Jerusalem has made this statement that backs Palestinian elections and calls on Israel to facilitate them,” Chris Doyle, chairman of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, told Arab News.

“The actions of the Israeli authorities in harassing and arresting candidates in East Jerusalem was outrageous,” he said.

“We hope that the consulate’s message will be repeated at the highest level — not just by a Twitter account — and that the foreign secretary and the prime minister will vigorously reinforce the message that Palestinians in East Jerusalem must be allowed to vote,” he added.

“East Jerusalem is part of the occupied West Bank and shouldn’t be cut off. To do so is to give informal approval to the illegal Israeli annexation.”

Regarding what more could be done by British authorities to ensure the success of the upcoming elections, Doyle said: “Britain will hopefully be sending election monitors, which will indicate that it’s taking these elections seriously and ensuring they take place in a fair fashion.”

He added: “If Israel decides to intervene in elections for other people, there should be consequences. Israel maintains that it’s a democracy, but here it is once again disrupting and delegitimizing elections for Palestinians.”

He said: “Palestinians can’t vote in Israel’s general elections, and now they’re being prevented from taking part in their own. It’s completely unacceptable.”

Julie Elliott, an MP for the UK’s main opposition Labour Party, tweeted that she totally agrees with the consulate’s message. 

Fatah is currently leading Hamas in the polls. A survey conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in December found that 52 percent of Palestinians do not anticipate that the elections will be held freely.


Israel to buy millions of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine doses

Israel to buy millions of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine doses
Updated 19 April 2021

Israel to buy millions of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine doses

Israel to buy millions of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine doses
  • New vaccinations will be suitable to protect people against different coronavirus variants, said Netanyahu
  • Israeli PM hopes to sign a similar deal to purchase vaccines from Moderna

JERUSALEM: Israel signed a deal to buy millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccinations from Pfizer through 2022, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday.
The new vaccinations will be suitable to protect people against different variants of the coronavirus, Netanyahu said in a statement.
He said he hopes to sign a similar deal to purchase vaccines from Moderna.
“This means that very soon we will have more than enough vaccines, both for adults and children,” he said.
With about 81% of citizens or residents over 16 — the age group eligible for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in Israel — having received both doses, infections and hospitalizations are down sharply.