COVID-19 deaths soar in Iran as regime pursues nuclear arms

A helicopter lands on Makran logistics vessel during a short-range missile drill by the Iranian Navy in the Gulf of Oman on Jan. 13, 2021. (Iranian Army photo via AP)
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An Iranian Navy warship is seen during a short-range missile drill by the Iranian Navy in the Gulf of Oman on Jan. 13, 2021. (Iranian Army photo via AP)
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An Iranian Navy warship is seen during a short-range missile drill by the Iranian Navy in the Gulf of Oman on Jan. 13, 2021. (Iranian Army photo via AP)
Troops alight from a helicopter on the Makran logistics vessel during a short-range missile drill drill by the Iranian Navy in the Gulf of Oman on Jan. 13, 2021. (Iranian Army via AP)
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Troops alight from a helicopter on the Makran logistics vessel during a short-range missile drill drill by the Iranian Navy in the Gulf of Oman on Jan. 13, 2021. (Iranian Army via AP)
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Updated 14 January 2021

COVID-19 deaths soar in Iran as regime pursues nuclear arms

COVID-19 deaths soar in Iran as regime pursues nuclear arms
  • Opposition group says 201,000 people have died; this is almost four times the official total and the highest per-capita death rate in the world
  • US and European nations urged to take a tough stance against Tehran is response to its nuclear ambitions and ‘crimes against humanity’

CHICAGO: Deaths from COVID-19 in Iran have exceeded 201,000, Paris-based opposition group the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) said on Wednesday. If their estimate is accurate, it means the country has the highest per-capita fatality rate in the world by far.

The figure is almost four times the Iranian government’s official tally. Senior doctors in the country have previously warned that the true total is likely to be much higher than official figures suggest.

Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the NCRI, described the soaring death toll as a catastrophe. She said it is a direct result of the Iranian regime’s response to US sanctions and international calls to abandon its nuclear-research program. She added that the situation will get worse as a result of the announcement last week by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei that he is banning the import of COVID-19 vaccines produced in the US and UK, on the grounds that they are “untrustworthy.”

“Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have sent the Iranian people to the killing fields of Coronavirus, (and) by banning the import of vaccines they are creating even a bigger disaster,” Rajavi said.

Ali Safavi, a member of the NCRI’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said the regime is taking advantage of the presidential transition in the US and fecklessness in Europe to deny the Iranian people access to vaccines as a means of controlling and punishing them.

“This puts the people of Iran at tremendous risk and is a crime against humanity,” he said. “It goes to show that Khamenei wants to use the coronavirus crisis as a barrier against another uprising like the one we saw in 2009.

“Otherwise, why would he prevent the import of vaccines? After all, Khamenei had no problem purchasing weaponry and other goods from the US and Europe in years past, because those purchases served his purposes.”

Safavi added that the regime in Tehran spent more than $25 billion on Airbus and Boeing planes from Europe and the US under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly referred to as the Iran nuclear deal, but now refuses to buy the COVID-19 vaccines offered by biotech companies Moderna and Pfizer.

“The death toll from the coronavirus in Iran has surpassed 201,000, which is a staggering figure in the sense that Iran ranks first in terms of per-capita fatalities,” he said.

“Alongside this the regime has refused to provide any meaningful financial assistance to the millions of Iranians who have lost their jobs and cannot go to work because of the (pandemic). It is a crime against humanity and I think it is high time for the international community to get involved and do something about it.”

Iran’s ruling mullahs are also exploiting the shift in power in Washington to pursue their ambitions to develop a nuclear weapon, Safavi said.

“Anticipating (the arrival of the Biden administration on) January 20 they have upped the ante, saying they are now enriching uranium to a purity of up to 20 percent, which is a clear violation of the terms of the Iran nuclear deal,” he added. “So all of the provocative actions they have been taking is nuclear blackmail, in an attempt to force the Europeans and the US to jump (back) into the JCPOA once the new administration takes office next week.”

The Trump administration withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018 and reintroduced tough sanctions on Tehran. President-elect Joe Biden has indicated that he might return to the deal.

Safavi said that the Iranian regime continues to develop its nuclear research program and its weapons industry.

“The European countries and the US should draw a line in the sand and say that Iran does not have a right to enrich uranium,” he added.

He also called on the US and EU to join forces to demand immediate action from Tehran, including: granting full access to International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, to military sites in particular; halting all nuclear-research activities; ending their nuclear missile expansion program; abandoning their efforts to destabilize other nations in the region. He also called for an end to the continued repression and violence by the Mullahs targeting their own people, and the continued executions of opponents.

“The regime uses executions as a means to instill an atmosphere of terror and repression inside the country,” Safavi said. “We also feel the EU and the US should begin addressing one of the most heinous crimes that was perpetrated by this regime: the 1988 massacre of 30,000 political prisoners.”

In calling for a tough international stance against Tehran by world powers, he said: “No amount of political and economic concessions to this regime will moderate its behavior.”

He added that the World Health Organization must “internationalize this issue and hold the regime accountable” for denying its people access to COVID-19 vaccinations.

“So long as you remain silent, so long as you do not take any action, that will only embolden the mullahs to continue their policies — and of course the primary victims of this policy are the people of Iran, who are suffering every day. More and more Iranians are dying,” Safavi said.

 

Soleimani’s shadow
Qassem Soleimani left a trail of death and destruction in his wake as head of Iran’s Quds Force … until his assassination on Jan. 3, 2020. Yet still, his legacy of murderous interference continues to haunt the region

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Five dead in ambush on Hezbollah mourners south of Beirut

Five dead in ambush on Hezbollah mourners south of Beirut
Updated 34 min 36 sec ago

Five dead in ambush on Hezbollah mourners south of Beirut

Five dead in ambush on Hezbollah mourners south of Beirut
  • Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati called for restraint after the clashes

LONDON: At least five people including three Hezbollah members were killed in Khalde, south of Beirut on Sunday when a funeral for a party member was ambushed.

Several people were wounded in the exchange of fire in the Khalde area between members of the Lebanese Shiite group and Sunni residents, after a funeral for Ali Shibli was attacked.

Shibli was killed the night before.

Sectarian tensions have long flared in Khalde between the town's mixed Shi'ite and Sunni residents.

Footage of a video broadcast on Hezbollah's Manar TV channel showed a volley of gunfire being fired on the convoy of mourners arriving at the home of Shibli.

Iranian-backed Hezbollah urged the Lebanese authorities to pursue the culprits saying the incident reflected lawlessness and bigotry.

Prime minister-designate Najib Mikati appealed for "restraint" and warned against confessional "discord".


Egyptian chief of staff calls on southern region’s military unit to be vigilant, combat-ready

Egyptian chief of staff calls on southern region’s military unit to be vigilant, combat-ready
Updated 01 August 2021

Egyptian chief of staff calls on southern region’s military unit to be vigilant, combat-ready

Egyptian chief of staff calls on southern region’s military unit to be vigilant, combat-ready
  • The chief of staff discussed the unit’s various combat missions and methods of confronting emergencies
  • Farid stressed the need to develop the field skills of fighters and improve those of officers

CAIRO: Egyptian Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Mohammed Farid called on the personnel and officers from one of the southern region’s military units to be “vigilant and combat-ready to carry out the tasks of securing the country’s borders.”

During a meeting with personnel from the unit, Farid conveyed the greetings and appreciation of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi for their efforts and sacrifices in the fight to maintain the security of the country’s southern border against smuggling, illegal immigration and hostilities.

The chief of staff discussed the unit’s various combat missions and methods of confronting emergencies, praising their combat readiness and high morale.

Farid stressed the need to develop the field skills of fighters and improve those of officers to enable them to make quick decisions under various circumstances.

He inspected the unit’s procedures for raising combat efficiency, beginning with the presentation of a report that included the technical and administrative status of the unit following improvements to weapons and other areas.


Israel says it has evidence linking Iran to deadly tanker attack; Tehran denies

Israel says it has evidence linking Iran to deadly tanker attack; Tehran denies
Updated 01 August 2021

Israel says it has evidence linking Iran to deadly tanker attack; Tehran denies

Israel says it has evidence linking Iran to deadly tanker attack; Tehran denies
  • Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said he has ordered the nation’s diplomats to push for UN action against “Iranian terrorism”

JEDDAH/DUBAI: Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday Israel had “evidence” Iran was behind the deadly tanker attack off Oman despite its denials, and warned his country could “send a message” in retaliation.

Bennett’s statement came after Iran rejected Israel’s “baseless accusations” it was responsible for the attack that killed two crewmen, and Tehran vowed to defend its interests after its arch-foe pushed for UN action against it.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh made comments on the attack from Tehran and denied any involvement, saying Israel “must stop such baseless accusations,” and noting “it is not their first time to direct such accusations at Iran.”

The MT Mercer Street, managed by prominent Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer, was struck Thursday off the Omani coast.

“The intelligence evidence for this exists and we expect the international community will make it clear to the Iranian regime that they have made a serious mistake,” the Israeli premier said at the weekly cabinet meeting in remarks conveyed by his office.

“In any case, we know how to send a message to Iran in our own way.”

From Jerusalem, Bennett slammed Iran’s “cowardly” denial, saying he could “determine with absolute certainty that Iran carried out the attack against the ship.”

“Iran’s aggressive conduct is dangerous not only to Israel, but also harms global interests, freedom of navigation and international trade,” he said.

Two crewmen, one British and one Romanian, died in Thursday’s attack on the oil tanker, which was on its way from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Fujairah in the UAE.

The US military said that early indications “clearly point” to a drone strike on the Mercer Street.

“US Navy personnel are on the Mercer Street, assisting the vessel’s crew,” the US military’s Central Command said. “US navy explosives experts are aboard to ensure there is no additional danger to the crew, and are prepared to support an investigation into the attack.”

The maritime industry analysts Dryad Global said the attack had “the hallmarks of the ongoing Israel/Iran ‘shadow war’.”

The UK on Sunday denounced Iran's “deliberate, targeted” attack on the tanker after assessing Tehran was behind the attack.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called the attack “unlawful and callous” and said the UK was working with its international partners on a concerted response to what he called an “unacceptable” strike.

It said the attack was the fifth against a ship connected to Israel since February, and two ships linked to Iran had been attacked in the same period.

Iran’s Arabic-language Al-Alam state TV channel, citing “informed regional sources,” said the attack was a “response to a recent Israeli attack” targeting an airport in central Syria where Iran is backing the regime.

On Saturday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and agreed to work with other allies "to investigate the facts, provide support, and consider the appropriate next steps", a State Department statement said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid ordered his country’s diplomats to push for UN action against “Iranian terrorism.”

He said: “I’ve instructed the embassies in Washington, London and the UN to work with their interlocutors in government and the relevant delegations in the UN headquarters in New York.

“Iran is not just an Israeli problem, but an exporter of terrorism, destruction and instability that are hurting us all.”

Lapid said he had also spoken to British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, stressing “the need to respond severely to the attack on the ship in which a British citizen was killed.”

HIGHLIGHT

Several Iranian drones appear to have carried out the attack, crashing into living quarters under the ship’s command center.

The strike on the tanker comes as European powers meet with Iran in an effort to shore up a 2015 agreement to curtail the Islamic republic’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions.

The accord was strained when in 2018 former US President Donald Trump withdrew the US unilaterally and reimposed sanctions.

Negotiations in Vienna, where the US is indirectly taking part, have stalled ahead of next week’s inauguration of newly elected ultra-conservative Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi.

Retired Israeli Brig. Gen. Shlomo Brom, a senior research fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, said the attack appeared to copy elements of an Israeli exploding drone strike on a centrifuge manufacturing site in Iran in June.

Israel “started developing drones and was among the first to develop the concept of a kamikaze,” Gen. Brom said.

“The Iranians are imitating us and adopting the same techniques.” Iran’s strike was “a certain escalation but aimed at avoiding a full-scale war,” he said. “They are not interested in a wider escalation, just as we are not interested in a wider escalation.”

In June, Iran said it had foiled a sabotage attack on an atomic energy agency building near the city of Karaj west of Tehran.

But aerial photographs obtained by private Israeli intelligence firm The Intel Lab revealed damage to the site.

(With AFP and AP) 


Rescuers pull 394 migrants from dangerously overcrowded boat off Tunisia

Rescuers pull 394 migrants from dangerously overcrowded boat off Tunisia
Updated 01 August 2021

Rescuers pull 394 migrants from dangerously overcrowded boat off Tunisia

Rescuers pull 394 migrants from dangerously overcrowded boat off Tunisia
  • It was not clear if there were any deaths or injuries among the migrants
  • Migrant boat departures have increased in recent months as weather conditions have improved

ABOARD SEA-WATCH 3, Mediterranean: Two humanitarian rescue ships pulled 394 migrants from a dangerously overcrowded wooden boat in the Mediterranean overnight on Sunday in an operation lasting about six hours, a Reuters witness said.

The German and French NGO ships Sea-Watch 3 and Ocean Viking rescued the migrants in Tunisian waters 68 km (42 miles) from the North African coast, near oil facilities and other ships.

Sea-Watch 3, which assumed command of the operation, took 141 of the survivors while Ocean Viking took the rest. The yacht Nadir, from the German NGO ResQ Ship, later gave support.

It was not clear if there were any deaths or injuries among the migrants who were in the wooden boat, which was crammed with migrants on deck and inside the hull.

The craft was taking in water and its engine was not working, the Reuters witness said.

Migrant boat departures from Libya and Tunisia to Italy and other parts of Europe have increased in recent months as weather conditions have improved.

According to the UN-affiliated International Organization for Migration, more than 1,100 people fleeing conflict and poverty in Africa and the Middle East have perished this year in the Mediterranean.

Many of the migrants in this latest rescue were seen jumping off the boat and trying to swim to Sea-Watch 3, the Reuters witness said.

The migrants were mainly men from Morocco, Bangladesh, Egypt and Syria.


Haniyeh re-elected as chief of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas

Haniyeh re-elected as chief of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas
Updated 01 August 2021

Haniyeh re-elected as chief of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas

Haniyeh re-elected as chief of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas

GAZA: Ismail Haniyeh has been re-elected as chief of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which controls Gaza, two Palestinian officials told Reuters on Sunday.
Haniyeh has led Hamas since 2017.