Reaper drone launched from Qatar fired missile that killed Soleimani

Mourners attend on Saturday the funeral procession of Qassem Soleimani, inset, in Karbala. (Reuters)
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Updated 05 January 2020

Reaper drone launched from Qatar fired missile that killed Soleimani

  • New threats of revenge on US as thousands in Baghdad, Karbala mourn Iranian warlord

LONDON: A drone launched from Qatar fired the missile that killed Iranian warlord Qassem Soleimani, US military sources have revealed.

Soleimani, head of the overseas Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, deputy chief of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, and five others were killed in the strike at Baghdad airport early on Friday.

They were hit by Hellfire R9X Ninja missiles launched by the MQ-9 Reaper drone sent from Al-Udeid military and air base in Qatar, UK media reported.

Two missiles were fired, one for each of the two vehicles carrying Soleimani and Al-Muhandis, and were controlled remotely by operators at the US Air Force base in Creech, Nevada. A second backup drone was also launched from US Central Command headquarters in Qatar, but was not needed.

The “near-silent” Reaper drone has a range of 1,850 km, can fly at a height of 15,000 meters, and is an “armed, multi-mission, medium-altitude, long-endurance” aircraft designed primarily for offensive strikes, according to the US Air Force. “It provides a unique capability to perform strike, coordination and reconnaissance against high-value, fleeting, and time-sensitive targets,” it said.

HIGHLIGHT

As Qatar’s role in Soleimani’s death was revealed, Qatar’s foreign minister flew to Tehran for talks with President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

US President Donald Trump is thought to have authorized the strike last Sunday, at the same time as approving F-15 fighter jet attacks on bases in Iraq operated by Iran-backed militias. The operation was planned by the US National Security Agency based on intelligence on Soleimani’s movements supplied by informants, electronic intercepts, reconnaissance aircraft, and the security forces of America’s regional allies. Soleimani arrived in Baghdad on a private jet from Damascus minutes before the missile strike.

As Qatar’s role in Soleimani’s death was revealed, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani flew to Tehran for talks with President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Sheikh Mohammed said the situation in the region was sensitive and concerning, and he called for a peaceful solution leading to de-escalation.

In Baghdad on Saturday, tens of thousands of people took part in a march to mourn Soleimani, as Iran ramped up threats of revenge for his death.

A rocket fell inside the heavily fortified Green Zone near the US Embassy, another hit the nearby Jadriya neighborhood, and two more were fired at the Balad air base north of the city. There were no casualties.

NATO and a separate US-led mission suspended their programs to train Iraqi security and armed forces.

Gholamali Abuhamzeh, a senior commander of the Revolutionary Guards, said Tehran would punish Americans “wherever they are in reach,” and threatened attacks on ships in the Arabian Gulf.

The US army used MQ-9 Reaper drones to kill Iranian commander Qassem Suleimani (Footage by AFP)



British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

Updated 21 January 2020

British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

  • Palestinian envoy welcomes cross-party call ahead of visit by Prince Charles

LONDON: A group of British MPs has called for the UK to recognize the state of Palestine ahead of a visit by Prince Charles to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

In a letter to The Times, the MPs, along with figures from think tanks and pressure groups, said the move was long overdue and would help fulfill Britain’s “promise of equal rights for peoples in two states.” 

The call comes as the heir to the British throne travels on Thursday to Israel and the occupied West Bank. 

During the visit, he will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem. 

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

The letter said since 2014, no meaningful progress has been made in the peace process, and Israel’s actions are pushing a two-state solution beyond reach.

“Illegal Israeli settlements, described by the Foreign Office as undermining peace efforts, are expanding,” the letter said.

Among the signatories are Emily Thornberry, a candidate for the Labour Party leadership, and Crispin Blunt, chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council.

Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian envoy to the UK, welcomed the move but said full recognition from the British government should have happened many years ago.

“Recognition doesn’t contradict peacemaking and negotiations,” Zomlot told Arab News, referring to the main argument used by the UK against taking such a step. 

“It reinforces the vision (of a Palestinian state) and a negotiated two-state solution. It should happen now because of the threat of annexation (of Palestinian territory) and the killing of the two-state solution.”

FASTFACT

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

Alistair Carmichael, a Liberal Democrat MP who signed the letter, told Arab News that the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government toward Palestine “makes the achievement of a two-state solution more and more remote with every week that passes.”

He said: “The UK has historic and political obligations toward Israelis and Palestinians. There’s now no longer any good reason not to recognize the state of Palestine.”

A spokesman for Labour MP Fabian Hamilton, who also signed the letter, told Arab News: “The fact that this has cross-party support shows the growing desire across Parliament for the recognition of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution.”

Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said the international community needs to finally stand up for the solution that it has had on the table for decades.

Doyle, an Arab News columnist, said the letter is an “indication that many people in British politics think we should be doing this, we should be standing up for the Palestinian right to self-determination, the legal rights, at a time when the state of Israel is doing everything to stop this, to take more land from the Palestinians.”

The letter was timed to coincide with a meeting of European foreign ministers on Monday, who discussed the Middle East peace process.

The Palestinian Authority, which runs parts of the West Bank, has been increasing calls for European countries to recognize the state of Palestine as the US has shifted to a more pro-Israel stance, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.

Writing in The Guardian on Monday, Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Europe could strengthen its role in the peace process if it recognized Palestine.

“European recognition of this state is not only a European responsibility but a concrete way to move towards a just and lasting peace,” he said.

Only nine out of the 28 EU countries have so far recognized Palestine as a state, compared to 138 out of the 193 UN member states.

In 2011, the UK’s then-Foreign Minister William Hague said the British government “reserves the right” to recognize Palestine “at a time of our own choosing, and when it can best serve the cause of peace.”

In 2012, the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade Palestine’s status to that of “nonmember observer state.”