Arab League slams Iran for interference in regional issues

Arab League slams Iran for interference in regional issues
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Updated 22 May 2020

Arab League slams Iran for interference in regional issues

Arab League slams Iran for interference in regional issues

JEDDAH: The Arab League has condemned Iran’s continued interference in the internal affairs of Arab countries — both directly and through its proxies — which it said posed a risk to regional security and stability.

It denounced Tehran’s constant aggressive behavior and provocative media activities, pointing in particular to the recent press appearance of a senior official from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, during which flags and banners of a number of militias as well as armed movements sponsored, financed, and backed by Iran, were displayed.

The organization emphasized the need for Iran’s relations with Arab countries to be based on respecting the principles of international law, including those of good neighborliness, state sovereignty, and refraining from the use of force or threats in any form.

League officials also called for the cessation of provocative acts that aimed to undermine confidence and regional security and stability, especially amid the current global humanitarian crisis caused by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.

Hamdan Al-Shehri, a Riyadh-based international affairs scholar, welcomed the Arab League’s statement, and said: “Iranian aggression in the region needs to be checked. They have created all these militias in the Arab states as instruments of terror and destabilization and these militias are causing havoc.

“The Arab League should take more steps to stop Iran from exporting terror to Arab countries. It is a good sign that 95 percent of the countries, especially the Gulf countries, have taken a united stand against Iranian interference,” he added.

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Meanwhile, there were also reactions to international calls for an inquiry into the killing of protesters by Iranian security forces during nationwide demonstrations six months ago over a hike in petrol prices.

Harvard scholar and Iranian affairs expert, Majid Rafizadeh, said: “Once again this shows the regime’s employment of brutal tactics and its disregard for human rights. Whenever the theocratic establishment is under significant pressure domestically, politically, and economically, it resorts to hard power and excessive methods of suppression to control the population and ensure its survival.

“As the regime sensed that the political establishment was in danger due to the protests, it ratcheted up its human rights violations.

“As the regime struggles to curb the protests and growing unrest linked to the disintegrating economy, the world must act to put a stop to the Iranian regime’s human rights abuses.”

Rafizadeh added: “The foundations of the current regime’s power structure, with Supreme Leader (Ayatollah) Ali Khamenei as its head, were built on the 1988 massacre (the state-sponsored execution of political prisoners in Iran).

“The world must know that the authorities now in charge of Iran showed their true allegiance and unwavering fealty to the fundamentalist regime and its goals by having no qualms about ordering and implementing human rights violations and political crimes.”

Meanwhile, the coronavirus has infected more than 10,000 health care workers in hard-hit Iran, news outlets reported Thursday.
Iran on Thursday put the total number of dead from the virus at 7,249, or 66 more than Wednesday. 
Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said there were more than 129,000 confirmed cases of the virus, including 2,392 more than Wednesday.
Iran has the most virus-related casualties in the region.
 


Forest fires rage near Turkish resorts, killing three

Forest fires rage near Turkish resorts, killing three
Updated 41 min 7 sec ago

Forest fires rage near Turkish resorts, killing three

Forest fires rage near Turkish resorts, killing three
  • At least 122 people have also been injured in the fires
  • President Erdogan announced that an arson investigation has already been initiated

ANKARA: Three people were reported dead Thursday and more than 100 injured as thousands of firefighters battled huge blazes spreading across the Mediterranean resort regions of Turkey’s southern coast.
Officials also launched an investigation into suspicions the fires that broke out Wednesday in four locations to the east of the tourist hotspot Antalya were the result of arson.
Turkey’s disaster and emergencies office said three people were killed — including an 82-year-old who lived alone — and 122 injured by the fires.
“Treatment of 58 of our citizens continues,” it was quoted as saying by the Anadolu state news agency.
The fires first emerged across a sparsely populated region about 75 kilometers (45 miles) east of Antalya — a resort especially popular with Russian and other eastern European tourists.
But they were creeping closer Thursday to sandy beaches dotted with hotels and resorts.
Images on social media and Turkish TV showed residents jumping out of their cars and running for their lives through smoke-filled streets lit up by orange flames.
The heavy clouds of smoke turned the sky dark orange over a beachfront hotel complex in the town of Manavgat.
Agriculture Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said a hotel was also being evacuated near the tourist city of Bodrum — some 300 kilometers west of Antalya — as new fires broke out across the southern coast.
Pakdemirli said 150 cows and thousands of sheep and goats had perished in the flames.

The fires were raging with temperatures approaching 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and wind gusts of 50 kilometers (30 miles) an hour.
But Antalya mayor Muhittin Bocek said he suspected foul play because the fires started in four locations at once.
“This suggests an arson attack, but we do not have clear information about that at this stage,” Bocek said.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said an investigation had already been launched.
The Russian embassy said Moscow had sent three giant firefighting aircraft to dump fire retardant on the burning forests to contain the flames.
More than 4,000 Turkish firefighters had been dispatched across the region to help contain the damage and search for people needing help.
They rescued 10 people on Thursday who were stranded on a boat in a lake that was surrounded by burning forest.
“All of the state’s means have been mobilized,” Environment Minister Murat Kurum said. “All our teams are in the field.”


Syrian rebels attack army outposts in southern Syria

Syrian rebels attack army outposts in southern Syria
Updated 15 min 37 sec ago

Syrian rebels attack army outposts in southern Syria

Syrian rebels attack army outposts in southern Syria
  • This is the biggest flare-up of violence since government forces retook the restive region three years ago
  • The widespread attacks at army outposts near the border crossing of Nassib with Jordan also disrupted passenger and commercial traffic

AMMAN: Syrian rebels waged a spate of mortar attacks on Syrian army checkpoints in the southern province of Daraa, rebels, residents and the army said on Thursday.
This is the biggest flare-up of violence since government forces retook the restive region three years ago.
The widespread attacks at army outposts near the Damascus-Daraa highway leading to the border crossing of Nassib with Jordan also disrupted passenger and commercial traffic at the main gateway for goods from Lebanon and Syria to the Gulf.
Multiple army checkpoints around key towns and villages from the town of Nawa north of the province to Muzarib near the border with Jordan were also seized, they said.
The army has sent reinforcements from its elite Fourth Division, run by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s brother Maher, senior military defectors said, confirming army leaks.
The attacks came after the army launched a dawn operation against the rebel-held old quarter of the city of Daraa, where peaceful protests against decades of autocratic Assad family rule began in 2011 and were met by deadly force before spreading across the country.
The army has sought to reassert its control after the collapse of talks earlier this week to get local elders and former rebels to allow the army to extend its control inside the old quarter, known as Daraa al Balad.
The Syrian army, aided by Russian air power and Iranian militias, retook control of the strategic province that borders Jordan and Israel’s Golan Heights to the west in the summer of 2018.
Russian-brokered deals at the time forced rebels to hand over heavy weapons and return state institutions in the enclave but kept away the army from entering their neighborhoods.
“The rebels have waged a counter offensive after the army operation against Daraa whose intensity has taken the regime by surprise,” said Zaid al Rayes, a political opposition figure in touch with local groups in Daraa.
State media said terrorists had fired at the main hospital in Daraa and the army had evacuated hundreds of fleeing families from rebel held neighborhoods.
Thousands of former rebels had chosen to stay with their families rather than head to remaining rebel-held areas in northern Syria, where tens of thousands of others displaced from recaptured areas had gathered.
The province saw a widespread boycott of last May’s polls that extended Assad’s presidency in what officials saw as a defiance of state authority.
Western intelligence sources say growing dissent is aggravated by the presence of Iranian-backed local militias who now hold sway and act with impunity since the central government is too weak to impose its authority on the area.


Iranian hackers posed as aerobics instructors to target defense workers

A fake Facebook page that was controlled by an Iranian hacker, according to reports. (Screenshot)
A fake Facebook page that was controlled by an Iranian hacker, according to reports. (Screenshot)
Updated 29 July 2021

Iranian hackers posed as aerobics instructors to target defense workers

A fake Facebook page that was controlled by an Iranian hacker, according to reports. (Screenshot)
  • They sent “flirtatious” videos to build rapport and later delivered malware to targets’ devices
  • It is unclear whether any sensitive information was stolen

LONDON: A group of Iranian hackers posed as aerobics instructors from Liverpool, UK, and sent flirtatious messages in an attempt to steal sensitive information from defense and aerospace industry personnel.

The hackers’ false identities were exposed by Facebook and the cybersecurity company Proofpoint, which said the operation proves the effort that Iran is putting into targeting individuals of interest.

The hackers have been identified as part of the TA456 group, which also goes by the name of Tortoiseshell — a group widely believed to be aligned with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Proofpoint described the group as “one of the most determined Iranian-aligned threat actors” that it tracks, due to tactics of spending months or years building up a relationship with targets across various platforms, as well as its “general persistence.”

The operatives created fake Facebook, Instagram and email accounts for a woman named Marcella Flores. She was depicted as a smiling, tanned and dark-haired Spanish woman working as a fitness instructor in Liverpool. They created a fake education and work history for her.

Proofpoint said that Flores would target people who publicly identified themselves as employees at defence contractors on social media accounts, befriending them before starting up a conversation.

In one case, she sent the target benign messages and photographs, as well as a “flirtatious” video to build a rapport, before later sending a link to a dietary survey but that in fact contained a malware download that would steal usernames, passwords and other data.

Proofpoint did not say whether the attacks were successful, but if they were, the stolen information could be used to gain access to larger aerospace companies that the original target was a subsidiary or contractor for.

Facebook banned her account and that of several others earlier this month, saying that they were all fake online personas created by the Iranian operatives to “conduct espionage operations across the internet.”

Facebook said: “Our investigation found them targeting military personnel and companies in the defence and aerospace industries primarily in the US, and to a lesser extent in the UK and Europe.”

When the comprehensive campaign was revealed, Amin Sabeti, an expert in Iranian cyber-operations, told Arab News that the strategy — which he dubs “social engineering” hacking — is a go-to tactic for Iranian operatives, or those working on behalf of the state.

“It’s the same pattern that Iranian state-backed hackers have been following for years,” he said.

Sabeti explained that they rely on manipulating targets into providing sensitive information or account details that can then be exploited for their gain — and, since they are operating from Iranian soil, “they have the consent of the regime.”

Sabeti said: “It’s easy, cheap, there’s plausible deniability and it works, it’s effective.”


Delta variant drives Mideast virus surge: WHO

Delta variant drives Mideast virus surge: WHO
Updated 29 July 2021

Delta variant drives Mideast virus surge: WHO

Delta variant drives Mideast virus surge: WHO
  • WHO said the highly transmissible strain has been recorded in 15 out of the region’s 22 countries
  • Tunisia has been struggling to contain the outbreak

CAIRO: The World Health Organization said Thursday the Delta variant has led to a "surge" in coronavirus outbreaks triggering a "fourth wave" in the Eastern Mediterranean region, where vaccination rates remain low.
The global health body said the highly transmissible strain, first detected in India, has been recorded in 15 out of the 22 countries of the region under its purview, stretching from Morocco to Pakistan.
"The circulation of the Delta variant is fuelling the surge in Covid-19 cases and deaths in an increasing number of countries in WHO's Eastern Mediterranean Region," it said in a statement.
"Most of the new cases and hospitalised patients are unvaccinated people. We are now in the fourth wave of Covid-19 across the region," said Ahmed al-Mandhari, director of WHO's Eastern Mediterranean region.
Infections have increased by 55 percent, and deaths by 15 percent, in the last month compared to the month before. More than 310,000 case and 3,500 deaths have been recorded weekly.
Countries such as Tunisia, which has suffered the biggest number of Covid-19 deaths in North Africa, have been struggling to contain the outbreak.
Critical shortages of oxygen tanks and intensive care beds have stretched the capacities of healthcare systems regionally.
WHO noted the rapid spread of the Delta variant was quickly making it "the dominant strain" in the region.
According to a recent paper in the journal Virological, the amount of virus found in the first tests of patients with the Delta variant was 1,000 times higher than patients in the first wave of the virus in 2020, greatly increasing its contagiousness.

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In Iraq, vaccine hesitancy gives way to jabs as Covid spikes

In Iraq, vaccine hesitancy gives way to jabs as Covid spikes
Updated 29 July 2021

In Iraq, vaccine hesitancy gives way to jabs as Covid spikes

In Iraq, vaccine hesitancy gives way to jabs as Covid spikes
  • "In the last 10 days, the number of (vaccination) patients has risen to 600 or 700 people a day" compared with 200 to 400 previously
  • This week Iraq reported 12,000 new infections in 24 hours, a milestone previously unreached since the pandemic hit in March last year

BAGHDAD: A soldier exposes his shoulder and awaits a jab to the amusement of fellow troops, a familiar scene in Iraq where a Covid spike is prompting more vaccinations despite widespread hesitancy.
At a Baghdad hospital administering the Pfizer/BioNTech jab, chaos reigns as dozens of men and women of all ages stream into an inoculation center where doctors are unaccustomed to seeing such crowds.
An elderly man shuts his eyes as the needle approaches, a young woman poses for her friends, and patients emerge from a room clutching certificates and looking relieved.
“In the last 10 days, the number of (vaccination) patients has risen to 600 or 700 people a day” compared with 200 to 400 previously, says Dr. Abbas Mohammed.
“The increase in the number of infections and deaths is really starting to scare people,” he says.
This week Iraq reported 12,000 new infections in 24 hours, a milestone previously unreached since the pandemic hit in March last year.
On Wednesday, a new daily high was reached with 13,515 cases. The government is ramping up warnings and incentives for people to get vaccinated as well as to comply better with poorly followed health protocols.
“Up until now, I was afraid (of vaccination), but the worsening of the situation has convinced me,” says Ali, a young man now “very excited” about getting his first dose.
The wait can last several hours, says 50-year-old Adnan Abdelhamid, bemoaning the “lack of organization” and “the people who know someone and go before the others.”
But the majority of patients are satisfied, like Salima Mehdi, an elderly woman whose head is veiled by a chequered scarf.
“I am so happy to be vaccinated, thank God,” she says, her eyes gleaming behind her facemask.
Dr. Mohammed says the number of people vaccinated in the country each day has risen from 23,000 to 110,000 of late.
And despite the blazing summer heat, queues are getting longer in front of vaccination centers in the capital, in the eastern province of Wasit and in Iraqi Kurdistan to the north.
The number of people to have received two doses reached 1.5 million this week in Iraq, a country with a 40-million strong population and where distrust of vaccines has been particularly strong.
“There is a jump in the rate of vaccination in all provinces,” health ministry spokesman Saif Al-Badr told AFP.
Fifty-year-old Ali admits he has long been afraid of the side effects of vaccines, an anxiety fueled by misinformation, including from health professionals.
“But more and more doctors on TV are explaining why you should get vaccinated. We also see people around us leaving. So I took the plunge,” he says, although the rest of his family have yet to decide.
“They are waiting to see; I am their guinea pig,” he says with a loud laugh.
A doctor at a private clinic says his patients prefer to get treated for Covid rather than get vaccinated.
“Too many people still don’t realize the importance of the vaccine and preventive measures,” says the doctor who requested anonymity.
But “opinions change easily in the face of the gravity of the situation,” he adds, and notes that the recent growing awareness is a “very good thing.”
Iraq launched its inoculation campaign in March and uses the Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca and Sinopharm vaccines.
On a visit to Washington this week, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhemi said some 500,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine were to be delivered in the coming weeks.
More than 18,000 people have officially died of Covid in Iraq in the past 18 months, and the country has recorded nearly 1.6 million cases of infection.