Iran reports 258 coronavirus deaths, highest daily toll since December

Iran reports 258 coronavirus deaths, highest daily toll since December
Iran identified 21,063 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, taking the total number of identified cases since the pandemic began to 2,070,141. (AFP)
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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.


Escalating Mideast violence bears hallmarks of 2014 Gaza war

Escalating Mideast violence bears hallmarks of 2014 Gaza war
Updated 3 min 38 sec ago

Escalating Mideast violence bears hallmarks of 2014 Gaza war

Escalating Mideast violence bears hallmarks of 2014 Gaza war
  • Israeli airstrikes have leveled two apartment towers in the Gaza Strip, where 2 million Palestinians have lived under a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade
  • Just after daybreak Wednesday, Israel unleashed dozens of airstrikes in the course of a few minutes

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip: Rockets streamed out of Gaza and Israel pounded the territory with airstrikes early Wednesday as the most severe outbreak of violence since the 2014 war took on many hallmarks of that devastating 50-day conflict, with no endgame in sight.
Gaza’s Hamas rulers and other militant groups have fired barrages of hundreds of rockets that at times have overwhelmed Israel’s missile defenses, causing air raid sirens and explosions to echo across Tel Aviv, Israel’s biggest metropolitan area, and other cities.
Israeli airstrikes have leveled two apartment towers in the Gaza Strip, where 2 million Palestinians have lived under a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas took power in 2007. Warning shots have allowed civilians to evacuate the buildings, but the material losses will be immense. Israel faced heavy criticism over the tactic during the 2014 war.
Just after daybreak Wednesday, Israel unleashed dozens of airstrikes in the course of a few minutes, targeting police and security installations, witnesses said. A wall of dark gray smoke rose over Gaza City. The Hamas-run Interior Ministry said airstrikes destroyed the central police headquarters in Gaza City, a compound with several buildings.
The death toll in Gaza rose to 35 Palestinians, including 12 children and three women, according to the Health Ministry. Some 233 people were wounded. Five Israelis, including three women and a child, were killed by rocket fire Tuesday and early Wednesday, and dozens of people were wounded.
The Israeli military said militants have fired more 1,050 rockets since the conflict began, with 200 of them falling short and landing inside Gaza. The military said it also shot down a drone that entered Israel from Gaza. Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said two infantry brigades were sent to the area, indicating preparations for a possible ground invasion.
Samah Haboub, a mother of four in Gaza, said she was thrown across her bedroom in a “moment of horror” by an airstrike on an apartment tower next door. She and her children, aged three to 14, ran down the stairway of their apartment block along with other residents, many of them screaming and crying.
“There is almost no safe place in Gaza,” she said.
The destruction of apartment apartment towers was among several tactics used during the 2014 war that are now the subject of an investigation by the International Criminal Court into possible war crimes. Israel is not a member of the court and has rejected the probe.
In a brief statement, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said she had noted “with great concern” the escalation of violence in the region and “the possible commission of crimes under the Rome Statute” that established the court.
Conricus said Israeli forces have strict rules of engagement and follow international laws on armed conflict. “We are definitely very mindful of civilian casualties in Gaza and we want to minimize them,” he said. “That’s the priority.”

 


The latest eruption of violence began a month ago in Jerusalem, where heavy-handed police tactics during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers ignited protests and clashes with police. A focal point was the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, a holy site sacred to Jews and Muslims.
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since the Islamic militant group seized power in Gaza from rival Palestinian forces in 2007. The conflicts ended after regional and international powers convinced both sides to accept an informal truce.
While the violence has been widely condemned, there is no sign that either side is willing to back down. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to expand the offensive, saying “this will take time.”
The unrest in Jerusalem has spread across Israel itself, with an outbreak of communal violence in mixed Jewish-Arab communities, as Hamas has called for a full-scale Palestinian intifada, or uprising. The last such uprising also began with violence at the Al-Aqsa mosque, in 2000, and lasted more than five years.
The Gaza Health Ministry said the 35 dead include 12 children and 3 women, with another 233 people wounded. Ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Kidra said the targeting of residential neighborhoods left people “in a state of panic.”
In the Israeli city of Lod, a 52-year-old man and his 16-year-old daughter were killed early Wednesday when a rocket had landed in the courtyard of their one-story home. Their car parked outside was wrecked and the interior of the house was filled by debris.
Lod also saw heavy clashes after thousands of mourners joined a funeral for an Arab man killed by a suspected Jewish gunman the previous night. The crowd fought with police, and set a synagogue and some 30 vehicles, including a police car, on fire, Israeli media reported. Paramedics said a 56-year-old man was seriously hurt after his car was pelted with stones.
“An intifada erupted in Lod, you have to bring in the army,” the city’s mayor, Yair Revivo, said. Authorities have declared a state of emergency and ordered the redeployment of nine paramilitary border police companies from the occupied West Bank as reinforcements.
In neighboring Ramle, ultra-nationalist Jewish demonstrators were filmed attacking cars belonging to Arabs. In the northern port town of Acre, protesters torched a Jewish-owned restaurant and hotel. Police said they arrested more than 150 people involved in “disturbances and riots” overnight in northern and central Israel.
Confrontations erupted last weekend at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, which is the third-holiest site in Islam and the holiest site in Judaism. Over four days, Israeli police fired tear gas and stun grenades at Palestinians in the compound who hurled stones and chairs at the forces. At times, police fired stun grenades into the carpeted mosque.
On Monday evening, Hamas began firing rockets from Gaza. From there on, the escalation was rapid.
In a televised address, Hamas’ exiled leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said Israel bore responsibility. “It’s the Israeli occupation that set Jerusalem on fire, and the flames reached Gaza,” he said.
Hamas has not commented on Israel’s claims that it has killed a number of senior militants. Islamic Jihad confirmed that three senior commanders were killed in a strike on their hideout in a Gaza City apartment building.
The Israeli military on Wednesday released footage of an airstrike on what it said was the house of Salih Dahman, a “high-ranking operative” in Hamas, where weapons were stored.
Earlier, the military said it struck a building where Hassan Qahwaji and Wael Issa, two senior members of Hamas’ military intelligence wing, were present. Hamas activists tweeted that the two were killed in the strike in Gaza City, along with a woman and her son.
Netanyahu said Israel had attacked hundreds of targets. The fiercest attack was a set of airstrikes that brought down an entire 12-story building. The building housed important Hamas offices, as well as a gym and some start-up businesses. Israel fired a series of warning shots before demolishing the building, allowing people to flee and there were no casualties.
Israeli aircraft heavily damaged another Gaza City building early Wednesday. The nine-story structure housed residential apartments, medical companies and a dental clinic. A drone fired five warning rockets before the bombing. Israel said the building housed Hamas intelligence offices and the group’s command responsible for planning attacks on Israeli targets in the occupied West Bank.
Fighter jets struck the building again after journalists and rescuers had gathered around. There was no immediate word on casualties. The high-rise stood 200 meters (650 feet) away from the Associated Press bureau in Gaza City, and smoke and debris reached the office.
Soon after the bombing, Hamas announced that it would resume its attacks, and fired 100 rockets at the Israeli desert town of Beersheba. Hamas said the renewed barrage was in response to the strike on the building.
Diplomats sought to intervene, with Qatar, Egypt and the United Nations working to deliver a cease-fire. All three serve as mediators between Israel and Hamas.
The UN Security Council planned to hold its second closed emergency meeting in three days Wednesday on the escalating violence, an indication of growing international concern. Council diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions have been private, said the UN’s most powerful body did not issue a statement because of US concerns that it could escalate tensions.

 

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US Treasury sanctions 7 Lebanese tied to Hezbollah finances

US Treasury sanctions 7 Lebanese tied to Hezbollah finances
Updated 12 May 2021

US Treasury sanctions 7 Lebanese tied to Hezbollah finances

US Treasury sanctions 7 Lebanese tied to Hezbollah finances
  • The development comes as Lebanon is experiencing the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history
  • The Treasury said six of the seven sanctioned were the group’s “shadow bankers”
BEIRUT: The US Treasury Department on Tuesday imposed new sanctions on seven Lebanese linked to the militant Iran-backed Hezbollah group and its financial arm.
The measures are the latest against Hezbollah, which Washington considers a terrorist group and has targeted with penalties for years.
The development comes as Lebanon is experiencing the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history, including a loss of trust in the country’s once booming banking sector.
The Treasury said six of the seven sanctioned were the group’s “shadow bankers,” who used the cover of personal accounts at certain Lebanese banks to evade sanctions against Hezbollah’s financial arm. They transferred approximately $500 million over the past decade, it said.
The seventh sanctioned person, Ibrahim Daher, is one of Hezbollah’s chief financial executives who oversees the group’s overall budget, including the funding for its operations.
The Treasury said Al-Qard Al-Hasan — Hezbollah’s financial arm which the US has sanctioned since 2007 — has taken a more prominent role over the years. Founded since 1982 and registered as a charity in Lebanon, the association is used by Hezbollah to gain access to the international financial system, the Treasury said.
While the alleged charity “purports to serve the Lebanese people, in practice it illicitly moves funds through shell accounts and facilitators,” the Treasury said. “By hoarding hard currency that is desperately needed by the Lebanese economy, (it) allows (Hezbollah) to build its own support base and compromise the stability of the Lebanese state.”
Al-Qard Al-Hasan, considered Lebanon’s largest non-banking financial institution, stepped in amid the latest economic crisis to provide a vital lifeline for many. It has seen a significant increase in clients.
Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, recently said the association has provided $3.7 billion in loans to some 1.8 million people since its founding.
Hezbollah “continues to abuse the Lebanese financial sector and drain Lebanon’s financial resources at an already dire time,” said Andrea Gacki, director of the Treasury’s office of foreign assets control.
“Such actions demonstrate (Hezbollah’s) disregard for financial stability, transparency, or accountability in Lebanon,” she added.
The Treasury said Daher leads Hezbollah’s Central Finance Unit, overseeing its income, budget and coordinating payments of its members while the other six participated in shadow banking activities on behalf of Hezbollah, maintaining joint bank accounts in Lebanese banks that allowed for transfer of money within the formal financial system.

Iran state TV says Ahmadinejad will run in presidential race

Iran state TV says Ahmadinejad will run in presidential race
Updated 12 May 2021

Iran state TV says Ahmadinejad will run in presidential race

Iran state TV says Ahmadinejad will run in presidential race
  • The Holocaust-denying Ahmadinejad has previously been banned from running for the presidency by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in 2017
  • Khamenei said Tuesday that he would not oppose the nomination of any candidate

TEHRAN, Iran: Iran’s state television reported Wednesday that the country’s former firebrand president will run again for office in upcoming elections in June.
Broadcast footage showed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad marching accompanied by supporters to a registration center at the Interior Ministry where he filled out registration forms.
Ahmadinejad in recent years has tried to polish his hard-line image into a more centrist candidacy, criticizing the government for mismanagement.
The Holocaust-denying Ahmadinejad has previously been banned from running for the presidency by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in 2017, although then, he registered anyway. A constitutional watchdog, the Guardian Council ultimately disqualified him then.
Khamenei says he will not oppose the nomination of any candidate, although the electoral council may still block Ahmadinejad’s candidacy. In either case, the populist’s return to the political scene may energize discontent among hard-liners who seek a tougher stance against the west — particularly Israel and the US
Iran opened registration on Tuesday, kicking off the race as uncertainty looms over Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers and tensions remain high with the West.
President Hassan Rouhani can not run again due to term limits, yet with the poll just a month away no immediate favorite has emerged among the many rumored candidates. There also appears to be little interest in the vote by a public crushed by sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic.
Nevertheless, many view the country’s hard-liners as ascendant — even as the US under President Joe Biden tries to find a way to re-enter the atomic accord.
Whoever wins the June 18 vote will take over from Rouhani, a relative moderate within the Islamic Republic whose two four-year terms began with Iran reaching the nuclear deal. His time in office now draws to a close with the accord unraveled after the US unilaterally withdrew from it under President Donald Trump in 2018.
Ahmadinejad pushed his nation into open confrontation with both the West over its nuclear program and its own people after his disputed 2009 re-election sparked the biggest mass protests since the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Abroad, he became a caricature of Western perceptions of the Islamic Republic’s worst attributes, such as denying the Holocaust, insisting Iran had no gay or lesbian citizens and hinting Iran could build a nuclear weapon if it chose to do so.
At home, however, the former Tehran mayor drew support from the countryside for his populist cash handouts and home-building programs. As his two-term presidency drew to a close and in his life after office, he also crossed the clear red line of Iran’s Shiite theocracy, directly challenging Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all matters of state.
Ahmadinejad entered office in 2005 and left in 2013, after the election of President Hassan Rouhani, who would go onto to make the nuclear deal with world powers. Yet even out of office, Ahmadinejad sought to reinvigorate his political fortunes in public and on social media.


Eid festivities stop as Israel pounds Gaza

Eid festivities stop as Israel pounds Gaza
Updated 12 May 2021

Eid festivities stop as Israel pounds Gaza

Eid festivities stop as Israel pounds Gaza
  • Eid preparations came to a halt on the largely empty streets as shops downed shutters and people stayed indoors

GAZA CITY: The Gaza Strip echoed to the sound of explosions as fighting between Israel and Hamas in contested Jerusalem escalated on Tuesday.

Since Monday night, 26 Palestinians, including nine children and a woman, have been killed in Gaza, most by Israeli airstrikes, health officials said.

Eid preparations came to a halt on the largely empty streets as shops downed shutters and people stayed indoors.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said: “As long as the Zionist aggression against our people continues, the Palestinian resistance, especially Hamas, will remain in a state of permanent clash with the occupation, which has made Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa and the Gaza Strip a target and a scene for its crimes and violations.”

Israeli warplanes attacked dozens of sites in Gaza, including homes and farming areas, as well as military training sites belonging to Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “We are in the midst of a military campaign. The Israeli army has been attacking hundreds of Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza.”

Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, said in a statement: “The enemy bombed a target where our mujahideen were present to repel the aggression, and we have martyrs and missing persons.”

Gazans endured a long night of bombardment and terror. Some lost their loved ones, others their homes.

Rashad Al-Sayed, 57, who lives on the sixth floor of the Tiba building in Al-Shati refugee camp, west of Gaza City, said that the roof of the house collapsed on his family as they tried to sleep after dawn prayers.

From a bed in Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital, he told Arab News: “It was a harsh night, we could not sleep, and when we decided to sleep, the roof fell on us. Israeli warplanes struck an apartment above my flat on the seventh floor.”

Al-Sayed was slightly injured, but his eldest son, Ahmed, 23, was badly hurt and is in intensive care in the same hospital.

Eyewitnesses told Arab News that Israeli warplanes fired four missiles at an apartment on the seventh floor at about 4:30 a.m., causing damage in most of the building, and killing a woman and her son on the floor below.


Egypt, Saudi FMs discuss Israeli attacks against Palestinians

Egypt, Saudi FMs discuss Israeli attacks against Palestinians
Updated 11 May 2021

Egypt, Saudi FMs discuss Israeli attacks against Palestinians

Egypt, Saudi FMs discuss Israeli attacks against Palestinians
  • Cairo spokesperson briefs Prince Faisal on efforts Egypt is making to restore peace
  • FMs agree on prioritizing political solutions in a way that ensures strengthening stability in the region

CAIRO: Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and his Saudi counterpart Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud discussed in a phone call on Monday attacks carried out by Israeli forces at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and other recent developments in Jerusalem.

Police fired tear gas and stun grenades inside the mosque and at least three Palestinians lost an eye after being struck by plastic bullets that witnesses said were aimed directly at their heads.

Tensions on the Gaza Strip border with Israel continued to mount following recent violent confrontations at the mosque and in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem.

Ahmed Hafez, a spokesperson for the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Shoukry briefed Prince Faisal on the efforts Egypt is making to restore peace. He stressed the need for Israel to halt its aggression and to provide the necessary protection for the Palestinian people.

The two ministers affirmed their rejection of all illegal practices aimed at undermining legitimate Palestinian rights. They also agreed on prioritizing political solutions in a way that ensures strengthening stability in the region and the importance of all parties respecting international law.

In an official statement, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry expressed its condemnation of “these rapid and dangerous developments.”

The statement emphasized the need to stop all practices that violate the sanctity of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, especially during the month of Ramadan. The statement also called for the protection of Palestinian civilians in the mosque and others in East Jerusalem.