Lebanon summons Iranian ambassador over media report on Maronite leader

Lebanon summons Iranian ambassador over media report on Maronite leader
Lebanon's Cardinal Mar Bechara Boutros al-Rahi greets supporters ahead of a speech on February 27, 2021 at the Maronite Patriarchate in the mountain village of Bkerki, northeast of Beirut. (AFP)
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Updated 07 March 2021

Lebanon summons Iranian ambassador over media report on Maronite leader

Lebanon summons Iranian ambassador over media report on Maronite leader
  • Hezbollah ally the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) on Saturday issued a “categorical rejection” of the media report, saying it constituted “an assault” on the position of the patriarch

BEIRUT: Lebanon has summoned the Iranian ambassador over a media report on the country’s Maronite leader.
Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi was the focus of a report on the Iranian Al-Alam News Network website that accused him of supporting normalization with Israel.
Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbe said on Saturday that Ambassador Ghazanfar Roknabadi had been summoned for a meeting on Monday.
The minister said the conversation with the ambassador would be “frank and sincere, based on the existing friendship between the two countries.”
An apology from the Iranian side had reached the patriarch, he added, and Lebanon’s ambassador to Tehran had been asked to provide details of what was reported by Al-Alam. “He informed me of an apology and condemnation issued by the Iranian government,” the minister said.
Earlier this month at a rally in Bkerke, north of Beirut, the cleric had called for a UN-sponsored international conference to deal with Lebanon’s economic collapse and political stalemate.
He urged neutrality so that the country would no longer be the victim of regional conflicts. But his comments drew anger from Hezbollah, as well as the critical report on the Al-Alam website.
The report said that Al-Rahi was “plotting today against the weaponry of the resistance and describes it as a militia loyal to Iran. He claims to be prudent and objective and talks about neutrality in the war for existence with global Zionism. We will definitely see him tomorrow in the arms of Israel.”
The patriarchate condemned the “insulting” report and said that, since it was issued by a foreign media organization, it was considered as “interference” in Lebanon’s internal and national affairs as well as interference in the church’s affairs.

FASTFACT

Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Mar Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi’s call for neutrality embarrassed the Free Patriotic Movement, whose supporters did not participate in the Bkerke rally.

It demanded the channel “back off and apologize” so that it did not cause internal and external unfortunate repercussions, especially since Al-Rahi’s words were clear.
“The TV channel is trying to fabricate a headline to mobilize people against Bkerke, which called a spade a spade, put the finger on the wound and spoke about the situation of all the Lebanese, without exception,” it added.
The Maronite League in Lebanon, headed by former MP Naamatallah Abi Nasr, denounced the report’s accusations about Al-Rahi and said it retained the right to “resort to the competent judiciary.”
It called on the Foreign Ministry to summon the ambassador and inform him of Lebanon’s rejection of such attitudes.
Hezbollah ally the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) on Saturday issued a “categorical rejection” of the media report, saying it constituted “an assault” on the position of the patriarch.
Al-Rahi’s call for neutrality embarrassed the FPM, whose supporters did not participate in the Bkerke rally.
After a meeting of its political council on Saturday, the FPM said that Bkerke “was and still is a beacon for open thought and an edifice of convergence.”
“Patriarch Al-Rahi has always advocated adherence to the roots of this East, and solidarity with all its components in the face of the dangers and enemies that lie in wait. It has never been a conduit for plotting against its people.”

 


Israel says will help ensure a ‘new’ Iran deal protects interests

Israel says will help ensure a ‘new’ Iran deal protects interests
Updated 11 April 2021

Israel says will help ensure a ‘new’ Iran deal protects interests

Israel says will help ensure a ‘new’ Iran deal protects interests
  • Gantz hopes Israeli security would be safeguarded under any renewed nuclear deal
  • Austin was making the first visit to Israel by a senior Biden administration official

TEL AVIV: Israel will work with Washington to ensure any “new agreement” on Iran’s nuclear program will safeguard regional security, Defense Minister Benny Gantz told his US counterpart Lloyd Austin on Sunday.
The comments came as Austin made the first high-level US trip to Israel since talks resumed on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear accord, which the Jewish state fiercely opposed.
Gantz said “we will work closely with our American allies to ensure that any new agreement with Iran will secure the vital interests of the world and the United States, prevent a dangerous arms race in our region and protect the State of Israel.”
Austin, the highest-level envoy from President Joe Biden’s administration yet to visit ally Israel, said Washington would work with Israel “to advance shared security interest and priorities.”
Stressing America’s “iron-clad” bond with Israel, Austin said the US will “continue close consultations to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge and to strengthen Israel’s security.”
Austin’s visit came just days after the US said it had offered “very serious” ideas on reviving the hobbled nuclear agreement reached between Tehran and world powers, which was abandoned by former president Donald Trump in 2018.
Israel under hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been a fierce critic of the Iran nuclear deal, dating back to when it was being negotiated during Barack Obama’s administration.
Netanyahu, whom Austin was due to meet on his visit, applauded when Trump withdrew from the deal and imposed sanctions on Tehran, which responded by stepping back from several of its commitments under the deal.
In the latest breach of its undertakings in the troubled agreement, Tehran announced on Saturday that it had started up advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges.
President Hassan Rouhani inaugurated a cascade of 164 IR-6 centrifuges for producing enriched uranium, as well as two test cascades — of 30 IR-5 and 30 IR-6S devices respectively — at Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment plant, in a ceremony broadcast by state television.
An “accident” took place at Natanz on Sunday but caused no casualties or damage, the Fars news agency reported, citing officials.
In an address marking the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Netanyahu had said on Wednesday that Israel would not be bound to a nuclear deal that would enable the Islamic republic to develop atomic weapons.
“An agreement with Iran that would pave the way to nuclear weapons — weapons that threaten our extinction — would not compel us in any way,” said the veteran premier.
Biden has said he is prepared to return to the agreement, arguing the deal had — until Washington’s withdrawal — been successful in dramatically scaling back Iran’s nuclear activities.
But Washington has demanded Iran returns to compliance while Tehran has insisted on an end to all US restrictions, with each side demanding that the other make the first move.


Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Prince Hamza make first joint appearance since rift

Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Prince Hamza make first joint appearance since rift
Updated 11 April 2021

Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Prince Hamza make first joint appearance since rift

Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Prince Hamza make first joint appearance since rift

CAIRO: Jordan's King Abdullah and his half borther Prince Hamza made a joint appearance on Sunday attending a ceremony marking 100 years of the Hashemite kingdom’s independence. 

The royal palace released a photo with Abdullah II, Prince Hamzah, Crown Prince Hussein and other dignitaries at the grave of King Talal in Amman, Jordan's capital.

This is their first public appearance together since a rare palace feud last week.


Iran reports 258 coronavirus deaths, highest daily toll since December

Iran reports 258 coronavirus deaths, highest daily toll since December
Updated 11 April 2021

Iran reports 258 coronavirus deaths, highest daily toll since December

Iran reports 258 coronavirus deaths, highest daily toll since December
  • That brings the total number of fatalities from the coronavirus to 64,490
  • 21,063 new cases were identified in the past 24 hours, taking the total number of identified cases since the pandemic began to 2,070,141

DUBAI: Iran reported 258 deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, the health ministry said on Sunday, the highest daily toll since early December.
That brings the total number of fatalities from the coronavirus to 64,490 in Iran, the worst-hit country in the Middle East.
Health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari told state TV that 21,063 new cases were identified in the past 24 hours, taking the total number of identified cases since the pandemic began to 2,070,141.
“Unfortunately, in the past 24 hours 258 people have died from the virus,” Lari said. State TV said it was the country’s highest daily death toll since Dec. 10.
Iran’s Health Minister Saeed Namaki, in a televised news conference, warned about more fatalities in the coming week if Iranians fail to adhere to health protocols. On Saturday, Tehran imposed a 10-day lockdown across most of the country to curb the spread of a fourth wave of the coronavirus. The lockdown affects 23 of the country’s 31 provinces.
Businesses, schools, theaters and sports facilities have been forced to shut and gatherings are banned during the holy fasting month of Ramadan that begins on Wednesday in Iran.


‘Accident’ strikes Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility

‘Accident’ strikes Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility
Updated 11 April 2021

‘Accident’ strikes Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility

‘Accident’ strikes Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility
  • Behrouz Kamalvandi said there were no injuries nor pollution caused by the incident
  • Iran later called the incident sabotage

TEHRAN: Iran's Natanz nuclear site suffered a problem Sunday involving its electrical distribution grid just hours after starting up new advanced centrifuges that more quickly enrich uranium, state TV reported. It was the latest incident to strike one of Tehran's most-secured sites amid negotiations over the tattered atomic accord with world powers.
State TV quoted Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for Iran's civilian nuclear program, announcing the incident.
Kamalvandi said there were no injuries or pollution cause by the incident.
The word state television used in its report attributed to Kamalvandi in Farsi can be used for both “accident” and “incident.” It didn't immediately clarify the report, which ran at the bottom of its screen on its live broadcast. The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, the civilian arm of its nuclear program, did not immediately issue a formal statement about the incident on its website.
Natanz suffered a mysterious explosion in July that authorities later described as sabotage. Israel, Iran's regional archenemy, has been suspected of carrying out an attack there, as well as launching other assaults, as world powers now negotiate with Tehran in Vienna over its nuclear deal.
On Saturday, Iran announced it had launched a chain of 164 IR-6 centrifuges at the plant, injecting them with the uranium gas and beginning their rapid spinning. Officials also began testing the IR-9 centrifuge, which they say will enrich uranium 50 times faster than Iran's first-generation centrifuges, the IR-1. The nuclear deal limited Iran to using only IR-1s for enrichment.
Since then-President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, Tehran has abandoned all the limits of its uranium stockpile. It now enriches up to 20% purity, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%. Iran maintains its atomic program is for peaceful purposes, but fears about Tehran having the ability to make a bomb saw world powers reach the deal with the Islamic Republic in 2015.
The deal lifted economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for it limiting its program and allowing inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to keep a close watch on its work.


Libya launches COVID-19 vaccination drive after delays

Libya launches COVID-19 vaccination drive after delays
Updated 11 April 2021

Libya launches COVID-19 vaccination drive after delays

Libya launches COVID-19 vaccination drive after delays
  • The country's healthcare system has been strained by years of political turmoil and violence
  • Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh called it a "blessed day" in the fight against COVID-19 after receiving his shot

TRIPOLI: Libya's new unity government launched a long-delayed COVID-19 vaccination programme on Saturday after receiving some 160,000 vaccine doses over the past week, with the prime minister receiving his jab on live television.
While Libya is richer than its neighbours due to oil exports, the country's healthcare system has been strained by years of political turmoil and violence, and it has struggled to cope during the pandemic.
Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh called it a "blessed day" in the fight against COVID-19 after receiving his shot, without saying which vaccine he had been given. At least 100,000 of the doses that arrived this week were Russia's Sputnik V vaccine.
Dbeibeh's interim Government of National Unity was sworn in last month after emerging through a UN-facilitated process with a mandate to unify the country, improve state services and oversee the run-up to a national election in December.
Dbeibeh's government has framed the delivery of vaccines and the national roll-out as evidence that it is improving the lives of ordinary Libyans after replacing two warring administrations that ruled in the east and west of the country.
"Through the political consultations and the efforts of the prime minister, the vaccine is available," said Health Minister Ali Al-Zanati, who has said previously the government had so far ordered enough doses to inoculate 1.4 million of the country's more than six million people.
Libya's National Centre for Disease Control has said more than 400,000 people have registered for vaccination in more than 400 centres around the country.
Libya has recorded more than 166,000 coronavirus cases and nearly 3,000 deaths, though UN envoys have said the true figures are likely far higher.
"I feel sorry that the vaccine arrived late in Libya after thousands were infected. But better late than never," said Ali al-Hadi, a shop owner, adding that his wife had been sick with COVID-19 and recovered.
Many Libyans fear the vaccination campaign could be marred by political infighting or favouritism after years of unrest.
"We hope the Health Ministry will steer away from political conflicts so that services can reach patients," said housewife Khawla Muhammad, 33.