Last victims of Soleimani: 56 killed in funeral crush

Iran promised harsh revenge after a US airstrike in Baghdad on Friday killed Qassem Soleimani. (File/AFP)
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Updated 09 January 2020

Last victims of Soleimani: 56 killed in funeral crush

  • Chaos as warlord buried in home city

JEDDAH: After more than 20 years of wreaking death and destruction throughout the Middle East, Iranian warlord Qassem Soleimani claimed his final victims on Tuesday — at least 56 people crushed to death at his own funeral.

More than 200 were injured when the procession through Soleimani’s home city of Kerman in southeast Iran descended into chaos.  As the truck carrying his coffin edged slowly forward, thousands in the crowd were pushed off the street and into a narrow side alley, where dozens of men, women and children were trampled and crushed to death.

“Some held hands together, trying to open a path to the street,” one witness said. “But there were so many people in the alley, all thrown on top of each other, and killed.”

Soleimani was head of the overseas Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), responsible for setting up and controlling Iran’s network of proxy militias and armed groups in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. His death in a US drone missile strike near Baghdad airport last Friday has led to an exchange of threats between Washington and Tehran, and heightened tensions throughout the region.

“We will take revenge, a hard and definitive revenge,” IRGC chief Gen. Hossein Salami told the crowds at the funeral in Kerman.

Ali Shamkhani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, said 13 “revenge scenarios” were being considered. Even the weakest option would be “a historic nightmare for the Americans,” he said.

US President Donald Trump has promised to target 52 Iranian sites if Iran retaliates for Soleimani’s death.

In Iraq, where Parliament has demanded the government expel all 5,200 US troops in response to the drone attack, Baghdad asked the UN Security Council to condemn the US strike so that “the law of the jungle” does not prevail.

The attack was “a dangerous escalation that could lead to a devastating war in Iraq, the region and the world,” said Iraq’s UN ambassador Mohammed Hussein Bahr-Aluloom.

Iran-backed armed factions in Iraq threatened “a war against the American presence in all parts of the region that we can reach,” and called for a meeting of anti-US militias to decide on their next step.

“We will regroup the forces of the resistance in a single entity to respond to Washington,” said Nasr Al-Shammary, deputy head of Harakat Al-Nujaba, one of the most hardline factions of Iraq’s Hashd Al-Shaabi paramilitary network. Another militia leader, Qais Al-Khazali, told US forces that his fighters would “turn the skies above you into hell.”

The foreign ministers of Britain, France, Germany and Italy, plus the EU diplomatic chief, met in Brussels for emergency talks on Iran.


British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

Updated 22 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.”