Israeli forces target Hamas sites in Gaza after Palestinian mortar fire, two killed in separate blast

Israeli forces target Hamas sites in Gaza after Palestinian mortar fire, two killed in separate blast
Gaza's demarcation line with Israel has been the scene of months of mass protests as well as rocket fire and Israeli strikes (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 27 August 2019

Israeli forces target Hamas sites in Gaza after Palestinian mortar fire, two killed in separate blast

Israeli forces target Hamas sites in Gaza after Palestinian mortar fire, two killed in separate blast
  • Witnesses said fire from an Israeli drone hit Hamas facilities
  • In separate incident, two Palestinians killed and one injured after explosion in Gaza City

GAZA CITY, Palestine: Two Palestinians were killed and another injured in an explosion in Gaza City Tuesday night, the Palestinian health ministry said, adding the cause of the blast was unknown.

The Israeli military denied the deaths was caused by one of its air strikes, and Palestinian eyewitnesses at the scene told AFP they had seen no aircraft overhead.

Earlier on Tuesday, Israel had launched an air strike against Gaza’s Hamas rulers on Tuesday after its militants in the strip fired a mortar round across the border, the army said.

Witnesses said that fire from an Israeli drone hit Hamas facilities east of Al-Bureij refugee camp.

No injuries were reported.

“A short while ago a mortar shell was identified as having been fired from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory,” an Israeli army statement said in English.

“In response, an Israel Defense Forces aircraft targeted a Hamas military post in the northern Gaza Strip.”

Israeli media said the shell fell on open ground, causing no injuries or damage.

Tuesday’s events were the latest in a string of cross-border incidents which have raised concerns of further escalation before Israel’s September 17 elections.

On Monday Israeli warplanes hit what the military said were “terror targets in a Hamas military compound in the northern Gaza Strip, including the office of a Hamas battalion commander.”

Israel also announced it was slashing by half the fuel it pipes to the strip’s main power station, meaning a cut to Gaza’s already meagre electricity supply.

The measures came after three rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel on Sunday night, according to the army, which said two of them were intercepted by air defense systems.

Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza have fought three wars since 2008.

August has seen rocket fire from Gaza, infiltration attempts by armed Palestinians and return fire by Israel, threatening a fragile cease-fire.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is fighting for reelection in the September polls, with political opponents calling for tougher action against Islamist movement Hamas.


World powers in new push for Libya peace

World powers in new push for Libya peace
Updated 23 June 2021

World powers in new push for Libya peace

World powers in new push for Libya peace

BERLIN: Germany and the United Nations are bringing together representatives of Libya with powers that have interests in the country at a conference Wednesday which aims for progress toward securing elections in the North African nation and the removal of foreign fighters.
The meeting at the foreign ministry in Berlin, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken among participants, follows up on a January 2020 conference where leaders agreed to respect an arms embargo and to push the country’s warring parties to reach a full cease-fire. Germany has tried to act as an intermediary.
Countries that have been involved in the process include the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, along with Italy, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
Ahead of the conference, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas noted that much has been achieved in the past two years. An October cease-fire agreement that included a demand that all foreign fighters and mercenaries leave Libya within 90 days led to a deal on elections, due to be held on Dec. 24, and a transitional government that took office in February.
But “many challenges still lie ahead of us,” said Maas. “For the further stabilization of the country, it is crucial that elections take place as planned and that foreign fighters and mercenaries really do leave Libya.”
He added that Wednesday’s conference launches a new phase “in which we no longer only talk about Libya, but in which we are now speaking with Libyan men and women about the future of their country.”
Blinken said that “we share the goal of a sovereign, stable, unified, secure Libya free from foreign interference — it’s what the people of Libya deserve, it’s critical to regional security as well.”
“For that to happen, national elections need to go forward in December and that means urgent agreement is needed on constitutional and legal issues that would undergird those elections,” he said at a news conference with Maas. “And the Oct. 23 cease-fire agreement has to be fully implemented, including by withdrawing all foreign forces from Libya.”
The US special envoy for Libya, Richard Norland, said it was important to start bringing all armed groups in the country under a joint military command. “When foreign forces leave, they’re going to need to be replaced by a viable united Libyan national military and police structure,” he said.
Meanwhile, aid group Doctors Without Borders said this week it was suspending its activities in two detention centers in Tripoli after “repeated incidents of violence toward refugees and migrants held there.” It said staff had witnessed guards beating detainees at one center and received reports of people being shot at in another.
Libya has been a key transit country for migrants from Africa trying to reach Europe, especially after the collapse of order when a NATO-backed uprising toppled and later killed longtime dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. The oil-rich country was long divided between a UN-supported government in the capital, Tripoli, and rival authorities based in the country’s east, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.
In April 2019, eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar and his forces, backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, launched an offensive to try to capture Tripoli. Haftar’s 14-month campaign collapsed after Turkey stepped up its military support of the UN-backed government with hundreds of troops and thousands of Syrian mercenaries.
Little progress has been made so far on getting foreign forces out of Libya. Jalel Harchaoui, a senior fellow at the Geneva-based Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime who follows Libya closely, said that it is the presence of foreign mercenaries, acting as a sort of deterrent, that has led to the current, if uneasy, peace.
“That’s what it comes down to, and of course it’s not politically correct to say,” he said. He cautioned that elections could deepen polarization if conducted too hastily.


Iran official says US has agreed to lift oil, shipping sanctions

Iran official says US has agreed to lift oil, shipping sanctions
Updated 23 June 2021

Iran official says US has agreed to lift oil, shipping sanctions

Iran official says US has agreed to lift oil, shipping sanctions
  • The talks adjourned on Sunday for a break
  • Raisi is due to replace Rouhani in August

DUBAI: Iran said on Wednesday that Washington had agreed to remove all sanctions on Iran’s oil and shipping, and take some senior figures off a blacklist, at talks to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with global powers which are now on a pause.
The remarks, by outgoing president Hassan Rouhani’s chief of staff, were consistent with previous assertions by officials in Rouhani’s pragmatist camp that Washington is prepared to make major concessions at the talks, under way since April in Vienna.
The talks adjourned on Sunday for a break, two days after Iran held a presidential election won by hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi, the head of Iran’s judiciary who is on the US blacklist. Raisi is due to replace Rouhani in August.
“An agreement has been reached to remove all insurance, oil and shipping sanctions that were imposed by (former US President Donald) Trump,” presidential chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi was quoted as saying by Iran’s state media.
“About 1,040 Trump-era sanctions will be lifted under the agreement. It was also agreed to lift some sanctions on individuals and members of the supreme leader’s inner circle.”
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Sunday there was still “a fair distance to travel”, including on sanctions and on the nuclear commitments that Iran has to make. Other Western and Iranian officials have also said the talks are a long way from a conclusion.
Iran agreed in 2015 to curbs on its nuclear program in return for the lifting of international sanctions. Trump abandoned the agreement three years later and reimposed sanctions, and Tehran responded by violating some nuclear limits.
The new US administration of President Joe Biden aims to restore the deal, but the sides disagree on which steps need to be taken and when.
Iranian and Western officials alike say Raisi’s rise is unlikely to alter Iran’s negotiating position, as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei already has final say on all major policy.
However, some Iranian officials have suggested Tehran may prefer an agreement before Raisi takes office to give the new president a clean slate.


Iran says US websites seizure unhelpful for nuclear talks

Iran says US websites seizure unhelpful for nuclear talks
Updated 23 June 2021

Iran says US websites seizure unhelpful for nuclear talks

Iran says US websites seizure unhelpful for nuclear talks
  • Iran's state broadcaster accused the US of repressing freedom of expression
  • EU negotiator Enrique Mora said on Sunday that those involved in the talks were "closer" to saving the Iran nuclear deal

TEHRAN: Tehran warned Wednesday that Washington's seizure of 33 websites run by Iran-linked media was "not constructive" for ongoing talks on bringing the United States back into a landmark nuclear deal.
The US Justice Department said it had seized 33 Iranian government-controlled media websites, as well as three of the Iraqi group Kataeb Hezbollah, which it said were hosted on US-owned domains in violation of sanctions.
Iran's state broadcaster accused the US of repressing freedom of expression, while the president's office questioned the timing of the move as talks on bringing Washington back into the 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and major powers are reportedly making headway.
"We are using all international and legal means to... condemn... this mistaken policy of the United States," the director of the president's office, Mahmoud Vaezi, told reporters.
"It appears not constructive when talks for a deal on the nuclear issue are under way."
The 2015 deal saw Iran accept curbs on its nuclear activities in return for an easing of sanctions, but in 2018 then US president Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned the agreement and ramped up sanctions, prompting Iran to pull back from its own commitments.
Trump's successor Joe Biden has signalled his readiness to return to the deal and state parties -- also including Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia -- have been negotiating its revival in Vienna since early April.
EU negotiator Enrique Mora said on Sunday that those involved in the talks were "closer" to saving the Iran nuclear deal but that sticking points remain.
The US action also comes just after Iranians chose ultraconservative cleric Ibrahim Raisi as president in an election the US State Department characterised as neither free nor fair.
Visitors to leading Iranian media sites like Press TV and Al-Alam, the country's main English- and Arabic-language broadcasters, as well as the Al-Masirah TV channel of Yemen's Huthis, were met with single-page statements declaring the website "has been seized by the United States government" accompanied by the seals of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US Commerce Department.
The 33 websites were held by the Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union (IRTVU), itself controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force (IRGC).
Both the IRTVU and IRGC have been placed on the US sanctions blacklist, making it illegal for Americans, US companies, and foreign or non-American companies with US subsidiaries to have business with them or their subsidiaries.
Kataeb Hezbollah, the Iraqi group which owned three sites that were seized, is a hardline military faction with close ties to Tehran that Washington has formally designated a terror group.
Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), the immediate parent of Al-Alam, reported that other web domains, including Palestine-Al Youm, a Palestinian-directed broadcaster, and an Arabic-language religious and cultural channel were among those seized.
Bahrain's LuaLua TV, a channel run by opposition groups with offices in London and Beirut, was also frozen by the United States, according to an AFP correspondent in the region.
IRIB accused the US of repressing freedom of expression and joining forces with Israel and Saudi Arabia "to block pro-resistance media outlets exposing the crimes of US allies in the region."
TV stations such as Press TV and Al-Alam switched to .ir domains and their websites remained accessible. They are also still present on social media, mainly Twitter, and their broadcasts have continued uninterrupted.
On the website of their political wing, the Huthis branded the action "American piracy and copyright confiscation".
"The government of the United States of America is banning the Al-Masirah website without any justification or even prior notice," they said.
Al-Masirah quickly established a new website, using its name but swapping the .net domain for .com.
Meanwhile LuaLua and Al-Masirah continued to broadcast new programs, AFP journalists said.
IRTVU was designated for sanctions last year for "brazen attempts to sow discord among the voting populace by spreading disinformation online and executing malign influence operations aimed at misleading US voters," the Justice Department said.
"IRTVU and others like it, disguised as news organisations or media outlets, targeted the United States with disinformation campaigns and malign influence operations," it said in a statement.
US officials meanwhile have tied Kataeb Hezbollah to rocket and other attacks on sites in Iraq where American soldiers and diplomats reside, and say the group is supported by Iran's Revolutionary Guards.
The Justice Department did not identify the US company or companies which owned the domains that hosted the websites, or explain how they had been able to host them contrary to sanctions.


Iranian media: ‘sabotage attack’ on nuclear building foiled

Iranian media: ‘sabotage attack’ on nuclear building foiled
Updated 23 June 2021

Iranian media: ‘sabotage attack’ on nuclear building foiled

Iranian media: ‘sabotage attack’ on nuclear building foiled

TEHRAN: An Iranian news site close to security services says that authorities have thwarted a “sabotage attack” on the country's civilian nuclear program, without providing further information.
Nournews, a website believed to be close to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, reported Wednesday that the attack was foiled “before causing any damage to the building.” It said the case was “under investigation.”
When asked for comment, an Iranian official referred to the Nournews report. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as they did not have authorization to discuss the matter with the media.
Iran's semi-official ISNA news agency said the building was located near Karaj City, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) west the capital of Tehran.
The website of state-owned IRAN newspaper published the same report without offering the location or other details.


Iran likely had failed rocket launch, preparing for another

Iran likely had failed rocket launch, preparing for another
Updated 23 June 2021

Iran likely had failed rocket launch, preparing for another

Iran likely had failed rocket launch, preparing for another
  • Satellite photos from Planet Labs Inc. and Maxar Technologies show preparations at the spaceport on June 6
  • As with other failed launches, Iranian state media did not acknowledged it took place

DUBAI: Iran likely conducted a failed launch of a satellite-carrying rocket in recent days and now appears to be preparing to try again, the country’s latest effort to advance its space program amid tensions with the West over its tattered nuclear deal.
Satellite images, a US official and a rocket expert all confirmed the failed launch, earlier this month, at the Imam Khomeini Spaceport in Iran’s Semnan province. The attempt comes as Iran’s space program has suffered a series of high-profile losses, while its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard runs its own parallel program that launched a satellite into orbit last year.
As with other failed launches, Iranian state media did not acknowledged it took place. Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Wednesday.
Satellite photos from Planet Labs Inc. and Maxar Technologies show preparations at the spaceport on June 6. Those images include what appears to be fuel tanks alongside a massive white gantry that houses a rocket, while scientists fuel it and prepare for launch. Before the launch, workers tow the gantry away to expose the rocket.
The number of fuel tanks, based on their size, appear to have been enough to fill the first and second stages of an Iranian Simorgh rocket, said Jeffrey Lewis, an expert at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. The Simorgh is a satellite-carrying rocket that has been launched from that same area of the spaceport, he said.
Later satellite images on June 17 showed a decrease in activity at the site. Lewis said analysts believe Iran launched the rocket at some point in that window.
“Nothing had blown up. There wasn’t a giant stain — like they had dumped the fuel — and the vehicles had kind of just moved around,” he said. “The overall level of activity at the site was much lower. So to our mind, that looked like a launch.”
CNN, which first reported on the failed launch, quoted Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Uriah Orland saying that “US Space Command is aware of the Iranian rocket launch failure which occurred early June 12.” Orland did not elaborate. The Pentagon and US Space Command did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Wednesday from The Associated Press.
It wasn’t immediately clear why Iran would have picked June 12 for a launch as Tehran typically schedules such launches for national commemorations. However, it did come in the run-up to Iran’s presidential election last week, in which the Islamic Republic had hoped to boost turnout.
On Sunday, a new satellite image from Planet Labs showed renewed activity at the site. The image shows a mobile platform previously used to secure a Simorgh rocket at the gantry, a support vehicle seen at previous launches and a new line of fuel containers lined up at the site. Lewis said the equipment suggests that another launch is imminent.
Over the past decade, Iran has sent several short-lived satellites into orbit and in 2013 launched a monkey into space. The program has seen recent troubles, however. A failed launch this month would be the fourth in a row for the Simorgh program. A separate fire at the Imam Khomeini Spaceport in February 2019 also killed three researchers, authorities said at the time.
A rocket explosion in August 2019 drew even the attention of then-President Donald Trump, who later tweeted what appeared to be a classified surveillance image of the launch failure. The successive failures raised suspicion of outside interference in Iran’s program, something Trump himself hinted at by tweeting at the time that the US “was not involved in the catastrophic accident.” But Lewis said such failures are common, especially when trying to put objects carefully into orbit around the Earth.
Meanwhile, the Guard in April 2020 revealed its own secret space program by successfully launching a satellite into orbit. The head of the US Space Command later dismissed the satellite as “a tumbling webcam in space” that wouldn’t provide Iran vital intelligence — though it showed Tehran’s ability to successfully get into orbit.
The launch comes after the landslide election of Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi, the country’s hard-line judiciary chief tied to the mass execution of thousands in 1988. The vote saw the lowest turnout in a presidential election since Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Raisi will take over from Iran’s outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who guided Tehran into its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord in 2018, setting in motion months of tensions in the wider Mideast that continue today. Diplomats in Vienna now are negotiating a way for both Iran and the US to re-enter the deal, which saw Iran agree to limit its nuclear enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
The US has alleged such satellite launches defy a UN Security Council resolution and called on Iran to undertake no activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
Iran, which long has said it does not seek nuclear weapons, previously maintained that its satellite launches and rocket tests do not have a military component. US intelligence agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency say Iran abandoned an organized military nuclear program in 2003.
The Simorgh, however, is far too large and too slow to fuel to be a good carrier for a nuclear-tipped weapon, Lewis said.
“It’s a butter knife,” he added. “Could you stab someone with a butter knife? Yeah, but that’s not really the tool.”